Argentina hope change of venue can revive World Cup hopes
Argentina hope Boca Juniors' intimidating La Bombonera ground can revive World Cup hopes
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Argentina's stumbling 2018 World Cup qualification campaign faces another awkward hurdle tomorrow morning (Singapore time) as the misfiring South American giants take on in-form Peru in Buenos Aires.
With just the game against Peru and next week's challenging trip to Ecuador remaining, Argentina are in fifth place in the Conmebol table, outside the top four automatic qualifying places.
In a bid to revive their World Cup hopes, Argentina have sought to obtain every advantage possible against Peru, who have reignited their qualification campaign with consecutive wins over Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Tomorrow morning's match has been moved to Boca Juniors' intimidating La Bombonera stadium, where steep stands surrounding three sides of the pitch help to create a bearpit-like atmosphere in the 49,000-capacity venue.
Last month, Peru requested to Fifa that the game be moved to another venue on safety grounds.
A 2015 Copa Libertadores match at the ground was suspended when River Plate players were assaulted with a substance similar to tear gas.
Ironically, the choice of venue may be a good omen for Peru.
The Peruvians secured a famous 2-2 draw at La Bombonera in 1969 which saw them qualify for the 1970 World Cup at the expense of Argentina. It was the last occasion Argentina failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Whether the move to La Bombonera is able to provide the spark Argentina have lacked remains to be seen.
The 2014 World Cup finalists have lurched from one disappointment to the next since South America's qualifiers kicked off two years ago, with the two-time champions invariably failing to add up to the sum of their talented parts.
Despite a formidable arsenal of attackers led by Lionel Messi, the Argentinians have scored just 16 goals in 16 games, the second lowest total behind already-eliminated Bolivia.
A lacklustre 1-1 home draw with Venezuela in their last outing on Sept 5 left Argentina's hopes of automatic qualification for next year's Finals in Russia hanging by a thread.
While a fifth-placed finish would likely still see them qualify for Russia - with what ought to be a straightforward play-off assignment against New Zealand awaiting - a crowded table means Argentina can't take anything for granted.
If South American champions Chile - currently in sixth place, one point behind Argentina - win their home match against Ecuador, and fourth-placed Peru win or draw in Buenos Aires, Argentina will head into next week's final round of games below both the automatic qualifying and play-off spots.
Mario Kempes, one of the stars of Argentina's 1978 World Cup triumph, gave voice to the exasperation of many fans struggling to understand why a squad boasting the likes of Messi, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Angel di Maria has failed to fire.
"When they pull the Argentina shirt on, it's like they suddenly forget how to play football," a bemused Kempes said in a recent interview.
Chasing a first World Cup Finals appearance since 1982, Peru say they are ready for the challenge.
"We are fully prepared for this, we are a team that is capable of beating anyone," said their Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca. - AFP
- Bolivia v Brazil
- Venezuela v Uruguay
- Chile v Ecuador
- Colombia v Paraguay