INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier from Buenos Aires.
Argentina v Chile | Thursday 23:30
Argentina head coach Edgardo Bauza has said he’s super confident La Albiceleste will comfortably qualify for the 2018 World Cup and even suggested he can already see Lionel Messi lifting the trophy in Moscow next summer.
Such claims seem a little far-fetched when Argentina head into this month’s action in a mighty scrap to even finish in the automatic qualification places in CONMEBOL’s elongated preliminaries.
La Albiceleste take on a Chile outfit that defeated them in the finals of the 2015 Copa America and last year’s Copa America Centenario before facing the punishing altitude of La Paz and Bolivia on Tuesday evening. With trips to Uruguay and Ecuador still to come, victory here is pivotal.
Bauza’s unconvinced since taking the reigns (W2-D2-L2) and a home reverse to Paraguay almost saw the boss removed from his role. An abysmal 3-0 defeat in Brazil caused outrage but an impressive destruction of Colombia has given the coach breathing space.
Argentina played with a degree of defensive stability whilst barrel-chested striker Lucas Pratto provided a much-needed reference point around which Messi and Angel Di Maria rotated and caused havoc on the counter-attack.
Bauza’s expected to take an attacking approach in Buenos Aires before switching to a more pragmatic outlook in Bolivia next week with four points the bare minimum expected to keep Argentina on the road to Russia. With the governance of Argentinian football in disarray, the nation needs national team success.
Hosts too short to trust
But can we trust La Albiceleste here? At 11/20 (William Hill) the home side look far too short to support.
Messi played on Sunday evening and only arrived in the country at 5am on Tuesday whilst Bauza will be forced into a reshuffle at the back with Pablo Zabaleta and Ramiro Funes Mori both banned; Gabriel Mercado and Marcos Rojo should fill in the gaps.
The home side will need to watch their step in what promises to be a spicy affair – 13 of their players are a yellow card away from sitting out Tuesday’s action. But we shouldn’t expect a composed encounter with such high stakes in the offing.
Chile in strife
The loser in Buenos Aires will probably go into the last five rounds of qualification outside the top-five as visitors Chile are in just as much strife as their more illustrious hosts.
La Roja’s form has been indifferent since Jorge Sampaoli left after the 2015 Copa America triumph and their own position would look a lot less healthy if they hadn’t been awarded the game against Bolivia as a walkover.
The visitors are without banned Arturo Vidal whilst key midfielder Marcelo Diaz is injured – still, Alexis Sanchez is expected to shake-off his ankle injury to start in attack for a Chilean team that’s desperate to avoid another rotten away display.
Chile have never won a World Cup qualifier in Argentina – earning just two draws there in their history, in 1996 and 2003. La Roja went down 3-0 in Ecuador and Uruguay and have also been beaten in Paraguay.
The betting angle
Argentine-born head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi set his side up defensively in a 0-0 draw in Colombia – Chile managed only three attempts from inside the penalty box – and a similarly cautious approach might be on the agenda.
It makes finding a winner a tricky prospect here but the 6/5 (William Hill) on Both Teams To Score just looks a little too big to ignore.
Argentina’s last 10 home World Cup qualifiers have seen just two BTTS winners but with minimal time to bed in a new back-four, the fitness of Sanchez and Chile’s penchant for high-scoring games on the road means I’m happier being on the side of goals.
Argentina v Chile – Both Teams To Score (6/5 William Hill)