Buenos Aires: The prospect of a World Cup without Lionel Messi edged nearer to reality as Argentina struggled to a 0-0 draw with Peru, which left their qualification hopes hanging in the balance. Despite dominating possession in front of a raucous home support at Buenos Aires’ fabled La Bombonera stadium, Messi and Argentina once again drew a blank to the dismay of their fans.
The result left Argentina sixth in South America’s marathon qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia. The first four teams in the standings qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed side going into a play-off against New Zealand in November.
Argentina’s draw sets up a nail-biting finale next week, with only two points separating third-placed Chile and seventh-placed Paraguay. All could yet clinch an automatic qualification spot depending on results elsewhere. The margin for error for Argentina, however, who last failed to qualify for a World Cup in 1970, has narrowed dramatically after their latest stalemate, their third consecutive draw of a faltering qualification campaign. Argentina’s final qualifier is a challenging away trip to Ecuador in the thin air of Quito. Argentina have a poor record in the Ecuadorian capital, losing two out of three of their last World Cup qualifiers there and drawing the other. The Argentinians’ last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.
“Our situation is not very comfortable,” said Argentina’s coach, Jorge Sampaoli, “but it depends on us.
I remain confident we’ll be in the World Cup. It would really be unfair if a group that put it all out there like they did does not advance. Throughout the game we had a marked advantage again them but we could not break through.”
Argentina had all the possession against Peru. Messi had a handful of good chances and hit the post in the first minute of the second half. Darío Benedetto had several chances, too, but the visitors rode out the game for a vital point. “Getting a result in Argentina is really difficult,” Peru’s Argentinian-born coach Ricardo Gareca said. “But qualifying now depends only on us, which is important.”