It’s footballing Russian Roulette for five big teams whose failures now see the very real chance of a World Cup without Leo Messi or Alexis Sanchez
The United States are up against Panama on Friday in the Concacaf Hex in what is an absolutely fundamental game if the American national team is to be present in Russia. An absence would have serious implications, undermining the growth of football in the country and the possibilities of hosting a World Cup in the US soon. The final group stage so far has been underwhelming, but there is one last chance: the USA must take it. A win over Panama should do the job. This is a final.
What a mess it has been so far for Argentina in the Conmebol group. Currently fifth, Lionel Messi and co. need a win in the Bombonera against Peru and then against Ecuador to fly to fourth spot and avoid an intercontinental playoff, or even worse, not to be in Russia at all. Chile – currently sixth – are also there in the mix and could join Peru at the expense of Jorge Sampaoli’s side. The talent is enormous, but the individuals just haven’t glued as a team yet: to not see the likes of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala or Angel Di Maria at the World Cup would be a sporting disaster.
A disappointment, just like Argentina, so far, but there is time to recover, as long as the Albiceleste beat Peru, and Chile do their job in their games. First they face Ecuador, then Brazil, hoping the Brazilians won’t have too much to play for. For how things have gone so far, it would be good enough to be at the playoffs and then take it from there.
A “catastrofe” is how coach Gian Piero Ventura labelled Italy’s possibility of not being at the World Cup, echoing the Italian Federation President’s Carlo Tavecchio’s “apocalypse.” Italy have Macedonia and Albania to face to consolidate second spot in Group G of the European qualifiers behind Spain, and have a place in the playoffs. One point will be enough to do so, but winning will help the Azzurri have a likelier place in Pot 1, making it easier to fly to Russia. A spot in either Pot 1 or 2 will depend on the FIFA Rankings and that is beyond Italy’s power, but not winning would likely mean a spot in Pot 2 and the chances of playing Portugal in the playoffs.
Only two editions ago the Dutch were just a goal away from winning their first ever World Cup. But since the Arjen Robben generation has aged, the Orange have really struggled to get consistency going, despite several young prospects playing well regularly in top European clubs. Holland are three points behind second-place Sweden in Group A, and can still potentially make it: they need to beat Belarus scoring as many goals as possible (and hoping Sweden don’t do better than a draw in their tie) and then beat the Swedes in the face-off at the Amsterdam Arena.