Gary Lim: Pressure on Martino as Argentina continue to struggle
Coach Martino and his team wade deeper into World Cup qualifying mess
(Ezequiel Lavezzi 34)
(Lucas Lima 58)
Four months ago, they came within a penalty shoot-out away from clinching the Copa America.
Little could Argentina imagine that trouble was just around the corner.
The World Cup in Russia may be three years away, but they have already slipped into an extremely vulnerable position in the South American World Cup qualifying campaign.
The 1-1 draw with bitter rivals Brazil at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires yesterday morning (Singapore time) has set off alarm bells.
Although it's still early days, Argentina coach Gerardo Martino now finds his star-studded team second from bottom in the group, seven points behind surprise leaders Ecuador just three games in.
Argentina's worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign - just two points from a possible nine - has fallen under his watch.
He faces the wrath of a nation demanding answers and he struggles to come up with one.
Against Brazil, they let slip a golden chance to get back on track.
Ezequiel Lavezzi gave the hosts a handy lead in the 34th minute, only for the visitors to pull level via a 58th-minute Lucas Lima goal.
LACK CUTTING EDGE
Once again, for all their domination, they lacked the cutting edge - they have now scored only one goal in three games.
Just what has gone wrong for a team who finished World Cup runners-up just a year ago?
Of course, the slew of injuries is taking its toll. Captain and talisman Lionel Messi has yet to take part in the campaign due to a injury.
Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero, Javier Pastore and Carlos Tevez were also on the absentee's list.
But Martino can't really play the injury card.
In a football-mad country known for its high expectations, he is unlikely to find a receptive audience.
Against the Selecao, they might be below-strength, but they were not entirely crippled either, for Martino still had the likes of Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria and Lavezzi available.
The changing football landscape on the continent further complicates matters.
Chile, armed with their best generation of players in many years, are riding high following their recent Copa America victory.
Colombia, who surprised many with their fine performances at last year's World Cup, look an extremely tough nut to crack.
Uruguay and Paraguay have quality and stamina, while Ecuador's flying start will surely worry their rivals too.
Only Venezuela have fared worse than Argentina so far.
There are just four automatic qualifying spots for South America, with the fifth-placed team entering a play-off with a nation from Oceania.
Clearly, the margin for error is shrinking by the match.
Brazil coach Dunga, whose side ended the game with 10 men after David Luiz was sent off in the 88th minute, made a telling remark after yesterday's game.
He said: "I don't know if you noticed, but it didn't seem like an Argentine stadium, the fans were tense,"
And who could blame the Argentina supporters?
It could get worse for Argentina.
On Wednesday morning, the Colombians, led by the superb James Rodriguez, will be lying in wait at the Metropolitano Roberto Melendez.
It's a daunting trip for La Albiceleste. A defeat could crush whatever confidence they have left.
Martino doesn't have time to wait for Messi to return to come to his rescue. He must somehow rally his battered troops in time for battle.
It really is not too much of a stretch to imagine a major tournament without Argentina.
Just ask Holland.
BY THE NUMBERS
No South American team have ever qualified for the World Cup after failing to win their first three matches.