Argentina vs. Peru, a South American World Cup Qualifier featuring Messi, Di Maria and Farfan, is a contest with more than the three points at stake. CONMEBOL’s marathon qualifying campaign nears the midpoint of the tournament and few matches are left to be squandered.
Argentina are currently at the top of the table, but they are only three points ahead of the dreaded fifth spot, which leads to a home and away playoff against the fourth place of CONCACAF.
Peru, on the other hand, is approaching the point of no return in their campaign if they expect to qualify for Brazil 2014. With only six points after six matches, la Blanquirroja desperately need a positive result.
As of late, la Albiceleste has risen above its unpredictable play of last fall under Alejandro Sabella to vanquish Colombia, Switzerland, Ecuador, Brazil, Germany and Paraguay.
Can Argentina continue its impressive run of form, or will Peru respond to the pressure from home fans and deliver a memorable result?
Will Argentina’s Other Stars Lend a Helping Hand to Messi?
It is easy to pick on the back line (and rightly so) but this is a much larger problem that will need several years to fix through player development.
However, a greater problem for Argentina is their lack of ball possession with positive attacking movements from someone other than Leo Messi is hurting la Albiceleste.
As Fernando Gago said in a recent interview via Goal.com:
“Having Lionel is a bonus, but Argentina cannot play the ball only to Messi," he continued.
"We are building a style of play from several sides now."
If Argentina wants to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy in 2014, they need to have strong contributions from players like Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and someone new in the middle to feed them balls.
Though Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is tough to replace, the man who needs to be a constant presence on the team is Angel Di Maria.
Last season, the Real Madrid star had 15 assists in 23 total league appearances, only starting in 16 of those matches. If Di Maria can be the same type of catalyst in the Argentine midfield, then the flurry of goals will continue.
Peru’s Urgency to Qualify For the World Cup
Peru has failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1982. To say there is growing pressure in Lima in the lead up to their showdown with Argentina is an understatement.
The press in the capital is leading the charge with headlines such as “Stamp on the Flea” or “Bring down Messi,” challenging their players to stop the best player in the world.
Regardless of the country’s confidence and the morale boost the squad experienced after defeating Venezuela on Friday, it is going to take a special performance from their leading man Jefferson Farfan and a spirited defensive effort to earn any points.
Judging from the previous two CONMEBOL qualifying campaigns, it takes between 44-46 percent of the total points possible grasp the fifth spot. Without Brazil, the leader of the last two editions, the fight for the middle of the pack should be fiercer as there are fewer points total (18 games vs. 16 games without Brazil).
Peru only has six points from six matches thus far for an average of 0.33 points per match. A loss to Argentina means they need 16 points out of a possible 27 remaining to reach the coveted 45 percent mark for fifth place (22 points of a possible 48), or at least 1.77 points per match.
Peru’s hope for a return to world soccer’s greatest stage hangs by a thread.
The Rise of Messi: Barcelona’s Brightest Star Shining with the Albiceleste
It takes a special player to have over 200 opposing fans waiting to greet you with eggs and chants of your arch-nemesis “Ronaldo” as you arrive in a foreign country.
Messi is that man.
On Barcelona, Messi has been able to distinguish himself from his peers by scoring sensational goals at scandalous rates while still fitting the mold of team player.
He is finally playing at a high-level with Argentina and opposing fans understand it is “all or nothing” to attempt to throw him off his game.
Under Alejandro Sabella, Messi has taken his game with the national team to near Barcelona levels of excellence.
He has nine goals in his last five matches, including a surreal hat trick at MetLife Stadium in New York in June. In total, Messi has scored 11 goals since Sabella took over the national team and is playing with the same confidence he displays in the Catalan capital.
While the rest of the squad needs to improve their level of performance in the tournament, as long as Lionel Messi continues his high-octane strike rate, Argentina should qualify with little trouble to 2014.
Argentina have improved their ability to kill off games, but will struggle to put away a Peru squad playing with their backs against the wall. When you factor in 80,000 ravenous home fans and the difficulty of road games in South America, a draw is a strong possibility. Messi and Higuain will give Argentina a lead for long portions of the match, but a late Jefferson Farfan goal will give home fans a thrilling conclusion.
Argentina 2–2 Peru