Argentina face a must-win clash against Peru on Thursday in their penultimate CONMEBOL qualifying match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Fail to win at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires and Jorge Sampaoli's side will likely head into their final qualifier—in Ecuador on October 10—outside of even the play-off place in the table.
At present, Peru sit above Argentina in the fourth automatic CONMEBOL qualifying position, while Chile are one point behind in sixth and face Ecuador on Thursday, per Fox Soccer:
FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer
👀 World Cup qualifying is WAY too close to call in South America. 7 teams are still alive...Who do you predict will join Brazil in Russia? https://t.co/zsT7Sv17j92017-9-6 01:58:13
Read on for a full preview of a potentially monumental clash, along with full viewing and scheduling details.
Date: Thursday, Oct. 5
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET/12:30 a.m. BST (Friday)
Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect
Given the talent in the Argentina squad, there is little excuse for the position they find themselves in.
Lionel Messi, Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain together constitute one of the most enviable international attacking units in the world, yet the Albiceleste are in serious danger of not qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia.
B/R Football @brfootball
25 games, 34 goals ⚽ Argentina’s strike force has started the season in unbelievable form 🇦🇷 https://t.co/zHqxCkC3kp2017-9-20 12:44:40
Argentina should arguably have already wrapped up qualification as Brazil have, but they now find themselves having to beat Peru.
Anything other than three points on Thursday and the hosts will, at best, be condemned to a play-off place.
The form book does not make for good reading for Argentina. September's qualifiers saw them draw with Uruguay and Venezuela following a 2-0 defeat by Bolivia—their last competitive victory was in March against Chile.
Peru, meanwhile, have won three on the bounce, against Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.
If Argentina do end up finishing fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying, it will not be the end of the world as they would most likely win a play-off against New Zealand and make it to Russia anyway.
However, given the incredibly close nature of table at the moment, the problem at hand is the prospect of the Albiceleste missing out altogether if they fail to win their final two qualifiers.
The prospect of Dybala, Aguero—who will be absent for the Peru clash—Di Maria and, of course, Messi missing out on next year's World Cup will be unsavoury for many, but it is now entirely possible.
Sampaoli's side must step up their form from recent performances and rise to the occasion on Thursday to avoid such a fate.