Ecuador vs Argentina 10 October 2017

ALEJANDRO PAGNI  GettyImages

Argentina is in danger of missing its first World Cup since 1970 — nearly a half-century ago.

The thought of a World Cup without Lionel Messi is one football romantics would rather not contemplate.

The two-time world champions are sixth in the 10-team South American qualifying group.

In other words, outside of Brazil, everything remains wide open in South America heading into the final matchday of World Cup qualifying.

Messi was talked back into the fold, but Argentina are now sweating on their place at a 2018 showpiece and know they must secure a positive result against Ecuador on Wednesday to give themselves hope. A loss to Brazil would see Chile passed by either Colombia or Peru, likely Argentina and possibly Paraguay if it beats last-place Venezuela at home. "That will make us all play well".

Barcelona star Messi also has a record of struggling in games at altitude, vomiting on the pitch during a draw in the rarefied air of Bolivia four years ago.


Nothing has worked so far. The Estadio Olimpico in Quito is located 2,782 metres above sea level, making it hard for players unaccustomed to the conditions to run, never mind compete at maximum intensity for 90 minutes.

Argentina, on paper, look favourite for three points, but the way things have gone for the Albiceleste this campaign, anything is possible. While Brazil already clinched its place in Russia, Uruguay (28 points), Chile (26 points), Colombia (26 points) and Peru (25 points) all remain ahead of Argentina (25 points) on the table. Should Brazil lose to Chile, they could do Neymar a favour and ensure his biggest continental rival does not have the same safe passage to Russian Federation.

Uruguay has finished in the playoff spot for the last four World Cup cycles, reaching the tournament every year except 2006, when it lost to Australia on penalties. Chile are third with Colombia fourth, both with 26 points.

Since then in World Cup qualifying games, they have been beaten twice, in 2005 and 2009, before scraping a 1-1 draw in 2013. A draw would only be good enough for fifth if accompanied by heavy defeats for Peru and Argentina, and a defeat would leave them with no chance at all.

The top four qualify automatically and the fifth-placed side go into an intercontinental playoff against Oceania winners New Zealand.

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