A World Cup without Lionel Messi? Argentina have one game to save their campaign
Last Updated: 10/10/17 4:21pm
Lionel Messi and Argentina have one game to save their World Cup qualifying campaign - how did it come to this?
The current scenario
With one game remaining in South American qualifying, Argentina are in danger of missing their first World Cup since 1970 after they were held to a goalless draw against Peru on Thursday.
Argentina - who sit fourth in the latest FIFA world rankings - head into their final match with Ecuador having won just two of their last 10 qualifiers and sit in sixth, outside the fifth-placed playoff spot.
The two-time World Cup winners having managed only 16 goals so far in qualifying, the second worst in South America which is fewer than defensive-minded Paraguay have scored.
However, thanks to Paraguay's dramatic late comeback against Colombia, Argentina's fate is still in their own hands.
Now two places outside the automatic qualification place in sixth, Argentina must beat eighth-placed Ecuador to stand a chance of a top-four finish which guarantees an automatic route to Russia.
As fifth-placed Peru face fourth-placed Colombia, a win for either would secure them the automatic place, with Argentina leapfrogging the loser of that match into the play-off against New Zealand, should they beat Ecuador.
It's worth noting that the fifth-placed team would be huge favourites to beat New Zealand, who failed to pick up a point at last summer's Confederations Cup and lost 9-3 on aggregate to Mexico in the play-off to qualify for the last World Cup.
A draw for Argentina may also be enough to secure the play-off place but only if Colombia were to beat Peru while Paraguay would also need to fail to beat bottom-placed Venezuela in Asuncion.
Argentina could also qualify automatically with a draw if Chile lose by more than one goal to Brazil, Paraguay fail to win and Colombia or Peru do not draw.
What are their chances?
Argentina have tended to struggle when playing at altitude.
Ecuador are notoriously renowned for having one of the strongest home records in international football due to opposition teams struggling to adapt to playing in such unique conditions. Ecuador's ground in the capital is situated 9,127 feet above sea level - although there is a suggestion that teams could be starting to adapt as Brazil, Chile and Peru have all won there in this campaign.
However, if you eliminate their home form in this campaign, Ecuador have only lost three of their 37 World Cup qualifying games at home since 2000, including two wins and a draw against Argentina.
Furthermore, two goals in two minutes gave Ecuador a shock 2-0 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires at the start of the campaign.
Will Argentina handle the pressure?
If not, a World Cup without Lionel Messi will become a reality.