After the current round of international fixtures Argentina occupy fifth place in the Conmebol qualification standings for the 2018 World Cup and, if they are still there at the end of qualification, they will have to go into the playoffs for a berth in Russia.
There has been a recurring theme throughout Argentina’s qualifying campaign: Leo Messi, and whether or not the Albiceleste can cope without their talisman. So far Messi has missed seven matches through injury and Argentina have suffered in his absence. Despite announcing his international retirement in the wake of the side’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Chile at the Copa América, Messi returned to the fold but has missed more games than he has played for his country during the qualifiers, with 10 fixtures now completed.
The Barcelona forward was absent for Argentina’s first four qualifiers. In the opening round of fixtures Argentina lost to Ecuador at home and then drew away against Paraguay.
Only victory without Barça star
In the following round, Argentina could only muster a draw against a Brazil side in dire straits in Buenos Aires and then beat Colombia 1-0 at home, the side's only victory in 10 games so far without their star player available.
Messi did not feature until March, when Argentina beat Chile in Santiago and then Bolivia 2-0 with Messi on the score sheet.
In September, after Messi’s retirement, subsequent return and a change of coach, Edgardo Bauza replacing Gerardo Martino, the captain led the side to victory over Uruguay. Without Messi, Argentina slumped to a 2-2 draw against rock bottom Venezuela, who have only picked up two points in 10 games.
In this round of fixtures, with Messi on the sidelines nursing a groin injury, Argentina drew in Peru, who are in eighth position, and were beaten 1-0 at home by Paraguay.
In total, Messi has played in three World Cup 2018 qualifiers so far and Argentina have won them all. Without Messi, Argentina have managed just one victory in seven attempts.
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