Star-studded Argentina staring into the abyss ahead of crunch Ecuador showdown

Tricia Pearson
October 11, 2017

Brazil has already qualified with 38 points.

And so tightly bunched are the six remaining contenders that it is well worth studying the standings ahead of the 18th and final matchday and making a note of each side's goal difference, which could well be a decisive factor in determining who goes through to Russian Federation 2018.

Paraguay need to win to keep their chances alive. Argentina lie in sixth place, below the one play-off spot, having scored a paltry 16 goals in 17 games.

Martino also quit but Messi came back under new coach Edgardo Bauza, although the team did not improve and he was replaced by Sampaoli. They suffered a 6-1 loss there in the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign and were beaten 2-0 there earlier this year. But behind them, there is an almighty battle for the remaining three spots.

It is unclear whether Sampaoli will persist with Benedetto again on Tuesday. The latter tore his anterior cruciate ligament during Friday's draw against Peru.

Argentina have only won once in Quito since 2001, but surely it is a matter of time before their galaxy of stars click.

But if they fail to make it, Messi ― who would be in his mid-30s by the time of the next World Cup - would nearly certainly forever be condemned to be judged by the tedious argument that he's not really a great player because he's never won the World Cup.

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Both sides have been on negative runs.

In a worst-case scenario, Uruguay could lose to Bolivia and have Chile beat Brazil, Argentina beat Ecuador and have a victor in the Colombia-Peru matchup.

Ecuador have posted a 4W 1D 3L record at home.

Lucas Biglia and Sergio Pena during the Argentina-Peru FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier ar La Bombonera on October 5, 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Argentina's struggles throughout their 2018 qualification campaign have threatened to leave Messi hanging for a little longer, but Infantino believes that Jorge Sampaoli's side will drag themselves over the line. Old enemies Brazil could do Chile a favour in Sao Paulo and send them into that play-off with New Zealand. Messi's window of opportunity for proving is worth on the worldwide stage is running out - he knows it's all nothing so expect a big performance from the Barcelona star.

And so it all comes down to Tuesday night's game in Ecuador, which has always been extremely hostile terrain for visiting teams for one simple reason: altitude.

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