The prospect of a World Cup without Lionel Messi could very well become a reality on in the next 48 hours. The world watched as Argentina struggled to a 0-0 draw with Peru in their last World Cup qualifier, with the hosts monopolizing possession but failure to find a way past a stubborn Peru defence. Now Argentina’s fate is in its own hands, but even that is not be as reassuring as it used to be.
Thursday’s draw against Peru left Argentina sixth place in South America’s 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 now face a tricky final qualifier away trip to Ecuador and history is not on their side, as Argentina have a poor record in the Ecuadorian capital. They have lost two out of three of their last World Cup qualifiers there and they drew the other. The Argentinians’ last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.
There is now a great sense of urgency in the Argentine camp. They are in serious danger of missing World Cup for first time since 1970 and failure to do so would be a damning indictment on a team blessed with many great players. The fact that the likes of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín can find themselves on the bench speaks to just how talented this team is. Let us not forget that Argentina made it to the Word Cup Final in 2014 with more or less the same players so there shouldn’t be any excuses for them.
Another fascinating subplot about Argentina’s potential World Cup failure is Lionel Messi’s status with his country. Messi had previously retired in 2016 after Argentina lost another final this time, in the COPA America final.
“For me the national team is over. I’ve done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion.
“I don’t think I will (return). I made up my mind. I did everything possible to win and it’s done. It’s four finals we lost.”
These were the words Messi spoke at that time, before he was coaxed out of retirement a few months later. Should Argentina fail to win on Wednesday, it would be reasonable to assume that it may be the last time we see Messi playing international football, as another failure on the international stage may prove to be too much for him to bear. Hopefully that will not be the case, and should Argentina get the victory and result go their way, Argentina can still qualify for the World Cup.