2014 World Cup finalists they may have been, but Argentina’s campaign to reach the next one in Russia is not going to plan at all.
They currently sit in fifth place in the CONMEBOL qualification table, which, if they were to remain there, would not be enough for automatic qualification and would leave them in a playoff against the winners of the Oceanian section (most likely New Zealand).
— MESSISTATS ?? (@MessiStats) October 12, 2016
They needn’t panic yet as they are still only a point off the automatic places with eight games remaining, but their forms needs to improve drastically.
Central to their downturn in form is the absence of talisman Lionel Messi. The Barcelona forward’s last competitive appearance in an Argentina shirt was a 1-0 win at home to Uruguay – since then they have two bad draws at Peru and Venezuela, and on Tuesday night suffered defeat at the hands of Paraguay.
It continues a somewhat wretched record for Argentina without their star player – of the last eight World Cup qualifiers without Messi, they have won only once.
In fact, if that run is extrapolated across the 2014 campaign qualification also, Argentina have won just 22% of their qualification games without the 29-year-old.
Argentina in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers:
With Lionel Messi: 3 games, 3 wins
Without Lionel Messi: 7 games, 1 win
All by himself. pic.twitter.com/md5bVxJlMv
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 12, 2016
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) October 12, 2016
In a team that contains the attacking talents of Sergio Aguero, Ángel Di María, Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala (all of whom played against Paraguay on Tuesday with Aguero even missing a penalty), it is absolutely astonishing that they have come to be so reliant on one player.
This team, remember, are currently ranked number one in the world according to FIFA.
Argentina points return in competitive games since 2009 (when Messi won first B D’O)
With Messi: 2.26
Without Messi: 1.07
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) October 12, 2016
Luckily for manager Edgardo Bauza, Messi is due to return for Barcelona for their La Liga clash against Deportivo La Coruna this weekend before their Champions League fixture against Manchester City next week.
Bauza will praying to every deity he can think of that Messi comes through the next few weeks unscathed, because Argentina’s next World Cup qualifier is the small matter of a resurgent Brazil at the Mineirão..