[OP-ED]: Could we imagine a World Cup without Messi?
Be in the edge many times is dangerous, because you might end up falling. Once again Argentina is in the birth of elimination from the South American World Cup qualifying tournament, which is the most complicated and evenly-matched in the planet.
With only one game to be played by each squad, Brazil has sealed its berth for Russia 2018; three teams are eliminated, Ecuador Bolivia and Venezuela and the remaining six, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay are within only four points, fighting to claim the other four available spots (three and a half actually, because the country that finishes in fifth place would need to play a wild card that seems easy against Oceanic champion New Zealand).
After yesterday’s thrilling games that included an amazing comeback win by Paraguay in Colombia, where the away squad trailed 1-0 with one minute left in regulation and ended up winning 2-1, the Argentineans are in sixth place, which would leave them out of the World Cup for the first time since Mexico 1970.
Despite hosting Peru at Boca Juniors loud stadium, Argentina was unable to score and the contest ended on a 0-0 draw, recording their third tie in the three games played since coach Jorge Sampaoli took the reins of the national squad.
The Argentineans are led by Messi, who is the best player in the world, but have managed to score only 16 goals in 17 tournament games. To have an idea of such poor effectiveness, Messi himself has recorded 14 goals this season in only nine games with his club: FC Barcelona.
As I mentioned above, the 10 South American national teams have to play only one more game and four spots are open for Russia 2018. Unreachable Brazil leads the pack with 38 points, followed by Uruguay with 28. Colombia and Chile have 26, Peru and Argentina 25 (having scored more goals Peru is ahead in the tiebreaker procedure) and Paraguay 24.
The Uruguayans host Bolivia with a draw being enough to qualify. Peru and Colombia will play in Lima. The loser will probably be eliminated. Despite being last in the six-team group, Paraguay has an easy contest, hosting weak Venezuela. Chile has a complicated game in Brazil, but the home squad should not be at full strength, having already clinched the tournament championship. Argentina travels to Quito to face Ecuador. A win would secure at least a wild card spot for Messi’s team, but a draw would leave it virtually out of Russia 2018.
Eight years ago, in the qualifying tournament for South Africa 2010 the Argentineans could not clinch a spot until the very last game. By defeating Uruguay, 1-0, on the road Argentina avoided the wild card round. At the time we all though what the World Cup would be without Messi. It is true he performs better at the club level with Barcelona, but he still is the most spectacular player to watch and there is no better showcase in planet football than the World Cup.
Argentina is facing another do-or-die situation, which is even more complicated than the one experienced eight years ago.
Will Messi play in Russia 2018? All soccer fans are anxious and worried when we hear this question. The answer will be known next Monday in Quito, where Ecuador could become one of the biggest executioners in the history of soccer.