Argentina's fate hangs in the balance after lacklustre Peru draw


Heading into the second-to-last matchday, we thought we knew everything about CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying.

Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Nicolas Otamendi were seen shaking off their heavy legs on Friday morning after labouring to a 0-0 draw against Peru to leave their place at next year's tournament in serious doubt.

After missing chance after chance against Peru, Lionel Messi looked skyward as if seeking divine intervention. But Argentina have been so woeful that it is wildly optimistic to expect anything from them in Ecuador purely on the basis of their reputations.

Boca Juniors striker Dario Benedetto was given his first full debut in attack alongside Papu Gomez but they were unable to break the deadlock.

Argentina will finish their qualification campaign against eighth-placed Ecuador on Wednesday, needing a win to guarantee at least a playoff spot.

One electronics company will be anxious after promising customers a full refund on TV's if Argentina did not qualify for the World Cup.

Both sides went into the game on 24 points, knowing a win would virtually secure qualification.

The result left Argentina in sixth place in the standings.

"We managed a draw and, even though we came here to win, we realise that earning a point in Argentina is hard", Gareca told reporters.

The top four teams in the South America group qualify automatically, while the fifth placed team will advance to an intercontinental playoff. Their last two results in the group reflect this: a 1-1 draw against Colombia followed by a 0-0 draw against a Bolivia who were already eliminated.

There's no doubt that Argentina have quality individuals but when they put on the Argentina shirt, it really feels like there's a pressure on them that weighs them down. Unbeaten so far in this stage of the qualifying, Peru offer the argument that the collective is more important than the individual. Soccer fans in his home country have seemingly held that against him, complaining that he didn't first rise through the pro ranks in Argentina like Diego Maradona and never won a World Cup, again like Maradona.

Martin Skrtel's 89th-minute own goal gave Scotland a 1-0 victory over Slovakia, which was reduced to 10 men from the 23rd minute when Robert Mak was shown a second yellow card for diving.

The last matches next Tuesday feature: Uruguay vs. Bolivia, Peru vs. Colombia, Ecuador vs. Argentina, Brazil vs. Chile and Paraguay vs. Venezuela.