That didn’t exactly go to plan. Six points would have been great, four expected but to come away with two from Argentina’s qualifiers is disastrous
A week that promised so much for Argentina ultimately delivered very little and now with only two matches remaining in South American World Cup qualification, La Albiceleste are in as equally precarious position as before. A drab, goalless draw against Uruguay could have been considered a decent point but back in Buenos Aires on Tuesday against a Venezuela side, rooted to the foot of South American qualification without a chance of reaching Russia, the ragged 1-1 draw that transpired was an embarrassing failure.
It is perhaps hard to take many positives from the international break but here are a few winners and losers from Argentina’s travails…
With two draws from the break, it is safe to say the answer isn’t Argentina. However, La Albiceleste’s failure to take at least four points from the two fixtures has really left qualifying wide open.
Uruguay’s defensive resilience in Montevideo followed by a historic win away to Paraguay has edged them closer to a spot in Russia and Venezuela were able to celebrate a well earned draw in the Monumental thanks to their own mettle and Argentina’s wastefulness.
However, Peru were this week’s big winners as they leapt into the automatic qualifying spots with two wins, making October’s clash with Argentina all the more significant.
So did anyone from Argentina’s camp come away with any credit? Anyone?
Well despite two of his quieter performances it was still difficult to knock Lionel Messi, who toiled in both matches to try and lift his increasingly erratic and disorganised teammates.
Every moment of creativity in Montevideo stemmed from the left boot of the Argentina captain and against Venezuela, when in search of a winner La Albiceleste desperately looked for nothing more than an individual moment of magic.
“It’s difficult to remove this ‘Messi-dependency’ from a team when Leo is there. When you know you have the best player you will always look toward him,” Sampaoli said ahead of Tuesday’s match. Whether that’s true or not, Argentina must find a better balance and while Messi wasn’t a ‘winner’ in the true sense, the 30-year-old was exempt from the supporters’ fury.
Take your pick – ask any Argentina supporter and you’ll likely get a different name and so in that sense after two frustrating displays the biggest losers are those that sat through both.
Lofty expectation didn’t help matters — Jorge Sampaoli was making his competitive debut in the dugout, having only overseen friendly wins against Brazil and Singapore, Uruguay were in a poor run of form after losing three consecutive World Cup qualifiers and Argentina’s attacking new coach had picked an exciting, dynamic side with a mouth-watering front three of Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi.
The stage was set for the trio to herald the birth of a new era for Argentina; the reality was an evening of frustration in which Messi was forced into his all too familiar role of deep-lying playmaker.
Granted Argentina were much improved during the opening 45 minutes against Venezuela but unable to find the vital opener, La Albiceleste descended into the familiar state of chaos after swiftly canceling out the visitors’ shock goal.
And this brings us on to the second loser of the week – Jorge Sampaoli. Heralded as the man to provide Argentina with its much needed shake-up, the Copa America winning coach is already now fending off accusations of being a fraud.
The knee-jerk, short-termism that plagues Argentinian football takes no prisoners and Sampaoli is now in the crosshairs. The June friendlies were promising, the talk was positive, the squad was an exciting change but the performances were much of the same and it is clear that the 57-year-old will need time.
Unfortunately for Argentina and the qualifying process, time is in short supply. October’s double-header will come round quick and there is no more margin for error.
Two of the three players supposed to light up the Sampaoli era were Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi but neither really took their chance this week. Dybala, so often the inspiration for Juventus, was largely anonymous in an Argentina shirt, while Icardi endured a quiet evening in Montevideo and a frustrating blank against Venezuela. The Inter centre forward did everything right on Tuesday but just couldn’t find the net and even when it looked as though he had chalked up his first international goal, replays showed it was an own-goal.
Like Sampaoli, both Dybala and Icardi remain central to Argentina’s future but despite a bitterly disappointing week require further patience from supporters.