Football

Argentina's last throw of the dice

Argentina coach set to stick with Benedetto and not pick prolific stars Dybala, Icardi

CONMEBOL
ECUADOR ARGENTINA

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli is set to take a last, desperate gamble in their do-or-die mission against Ecuador.

According to press reports, the under-fire coach will make two changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Peru, but big names such as Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi are still out of the first XI.

Instead, winger Eduardo Salvio and midfielder Enzo Perez, both of whom trained with the first XI on Sunday, are set to replace Alejandro Gomez and Ever Banega respectively.

Leading the line again will be Boca Juniors striker Dario Benedetto. The 27-year-old had just made his first international start against Peru last Friday.

Sampaoli had earlier stated that he is setting up a side to enhance Lionel Messi's scoring prospects.

Hence, he has omitted Dybala because he feels that the Juventus star and Messi play too similarly and there is no time to develop a Messi-Dybala partnership.

The former Chile and Sevilla coach has been criticised for chopping and changing strikers and formations, but the alterations have brought him no joy.

Argentina are in sixth place in the 10-team South American group.

They have scored just 16 goals in 17 qualifiers, fewer than anyone else bar Bolivia, and only one - an own goal in the 1-1 draw with bottom side Venezuela - in the three qualifiers since Sampaoli took over in June.

The top four qualify automatically and the fifth-placed side go into an intercontinental play-off against Oceania winners New Zealand.

Argentina have won only one World Cup qualifier high above sea level in Ecuador's capital, but three points tomorrow morning (Singapore time) would guarantee them one of those top five spots, and probably one of the top four, depending on other results.

But with no wins in their last four qualifiers and no Argentinian having scored from open play for almost a year, the mood is not optimistic, even against a team that are already out of contention.

The players have not spoken to the press since last Thursday's 0-0 draw with Peru and there is an evident tension ahead of their game in Quito.

Meanwhile, Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus insisted that they will play to beat Chile, which will boost Argentina's chances of qualification.

Brazil have already qualified, but if they beat Chile in Sao Paulo, and Argentina defeat Ecuador, Messi's side can leapfrog the third-placed Chileans as they are separated by just one point.

"We have played three matches since qualifying for the World Cup and that hasn't changed the seriousness with which we have been playing," Jesus said.

"When you put on the Brazil shirt, you always play to win."

When asked about the prospect of Messi missing the World Cup, Jesus replied: "Messi is one of the game's greatest-ever players but we are just thinking about ourselves."

Brazil centre back Miranda, however, was more forthright.

"A World Cup without Brazil, Argentina and Germany loses its appeal a little," said the Atletico Madrid defender. - WIRE SERVICES

OTHER FIXTURES:

Brazil v Chile, Paraguay v Venezuela, Peru v Colombia, Uruguay v Bolivia

World CupARGENTINALionel messi