Sampaoli confident despite yet another setback
Argentina coach confident Messi and Co. can still qualify for World Cup
A World Cup without Lionel Messi?
It would be unthinkable, but that prospect could become a reality after Argentina struggled to a 0-0 draw with Peru in a South American qualifier yesterday morning (Singapore time) which left their qualification hopes hanging in the balance.
Despite dominating possession in front of a raucous home support at Buenos Aires' fabled La Bombonera Stadium, Messi and Co. once again drew a blank to the dismay of their fans.
The result left Argentina in sixth place in South America's marathon qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.
The first four teams in the standings qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed side going into a play-off against New Zealand next month.
Argentina's draw sets up a nail-biting finale next week, with only two points separating third-placed Chile and seventh-placed Paraguay.
POOR RECORD IN QUITO
All could yet clinch an automatic qualification spot depending on results elsewhere.
The margin for error for Argentina, however, has narrowed dramatically after their latest stalemate - their third consecutive draw of a faltering qualification campaign.
Argentina's final qualifier is a challenging away trip to Ecuador in the thin air of Quito next Wednesday morning.
La Albiceleste have a poor record in the Ecuadorian capital, losing two of their last three World Cup qualifiers there and drawing the other.
Their last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.
Should Argentina miss out, it would be the first time since 1970 that the two-time world champions, who reached the final against Germany three years ago, will not participate in the tournament.
Jorge Sampaoli, though, is not entertaining that thought.
"I am very confident that if we play with the conviction with which we did it today, we will be at the World Cup," he said.
"Today, Argentina were far superior to Peru, playing with a lot of authority.
"We just missed a goal. I am very hopeful and excited about what is coming. The team never gave up, put in a huge effort and deserved another result."
Sampaoli praised Messi for his performance, with the Barcelona star unfortunate to have scored just four goals in nine qualifiers this campaign.
"Messi played a great game, created chances and gave good passes," Sampaoli said.
Meanwhile, Uruguay failed to break down Venezuela in a 0-0 draw yesterday morning and were left waiting to seal automatic qualification.
The Uruguayans, second in the Conmebol group behind already qualified Brazil (38 points), are on 28 points and will hope to secure their berth in Russia when they host Bolivia next Wednesday morning.
If the 2010 World Cup semi-finalists seal one of the four automatic South American berths, it will be the first time in five qualifying campaigns this century that Uruguay have avoided an inter-confederation play-off.
They have reached three Finals via two-legged play-offs since 2002, but missed out on Germany 2006 after losing to Australia. - WIRE SERVICES
COUNTRIES WHO HAVE QUALIFIED FOR 2018 WORLD CUP:
- Russia (as hosts)
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia