Star studded Argentina travel to Santiago’s Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos to take on Copa America champions Chile in a crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Friday.
The same stadium witnessed history in the making nine months ago when Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile famously defeated favourites Argentina in a penalty shootout to win their first ever Copa America title. On Friday, however, the two South American giants lock horns with each other in a critical World Cup qualifying match.
Both teams come into this match separated by just one position and two points in the qualifying league table, with Chile (2-1-1) currently holding an edge over Argentina (1-2-1). However, according to the recent form table, Argentina look to be the favourites heading into Friday’s clash.
Chile have been on a downward spiral ever since their Copa America victory last summer. After winning their opening two World Cup qualifiers against Brazil (2-0) and Peru (4-3) in impressive fashion, La Roja went on to pick up just one point from their next two. They picked up a point against Colombia at home, but were thrashed 3-0 by Uruguay in Montevideo in Matchday 4. Chile currently occupy 5th position in the 2018 CONMEBOL FIFA World Cup qualifying table.
World number 2 Argentina, on the other hand, endured a dreadful start to their qualifying campaign. After suffering a shock 2-0 home defeat to Ecuador in their opening match of the campaign, La Albiceleste went on to pick up just two points from their next two qualifiers against Paraguay and Brazil. A Lucas Biglia goal gave the Argentines a nervy 1-0 win over Colombia in Barranquilla on Matchday 4, propelling them to 6th position in the qualifying league table.
Juan Antonio Pizzi vs Gerardo “Tata” Martino
Juan Antonio Pizzi was appointed as the new manager of Chile in January this year after Jorge Sampaoli left the national team post in pursuit of other opportunities. Pizzi was appointed by ANFP (Asociación Nacional de Fútbol Profesional) President Arturo Salah with an objective to guide Chile to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. This means that Pizzi will also be tasked with leading Chile through the 2016 Copa America Centenario in the United States and the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.
Argentina manager Tata Martino has come under severe criticism recently for his side’s lacklustre displays in the World Cup qualifiers. Despite having a large pool of talented individuals at his disposal, Martino has been unable to lead his team to produce the same level of performances that saw them reach the final of the Copa America last year. With expectations in the country sky high, anything less than a win against Chile on Friday will severely dent Argentina’s chances of qualifying for the next World Cup.
Counter Attack the mantra for Pizzi
Juan Antonio Pizzi faces an enormous task of rebuilding the Chilean national side following the unceremonious departure of Jorge Sampaoli earlier this year. In addition to winning the Copa America last year, Sampaoli’s Chile made it to the second round of the 2014 World Cup, only to lose out in a penalty shootout to hosts Brazil. It is clear, however, that Pizzi is inheriting a team that is still very much Sampaoli’s.
Pizzi will be relying heavily on the attacking talents of Alexis Sanchez and Jeisson Vargas to deliver the goods against Argentina on Friday. The pacey Chilean duo will be central to Pizzi’s plan of hitting Argentina on the counter during Friday’s showdown. Pizzi knows he can rely on experienced heads in the form of Gary Medel and Matías Fernández in central midfield although the absence of Arturo Vidal (suspension), Jorge Valdivia (suspension) and Charles Aranguiz (injury) will be a major blow to Chile.
Martino set to unleash his attacking stars on Chile
Tata Martino is in possession of arguably the greatest wealth of attacking talent in world football at the moment. Five time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi is set to make his first appearance of the qualifying campaign against Chile on Friday. The Argentina captain missed all four of his country’s qualifiers after picking up a knee injury while playing for FC Barcelona in September last year. His return to the national team has given Martino a major boost ahead of upcoming qualifiers against Chile and Bolivia.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is also expected to make his return to the starting line up for the first time since October last year, when he went off injured against Ecuador after just 22 minutes. The in-form Gonzalo Higuain and the effervescent Angel Di Maria are also expected to feature on Friday as Martino prepares to unleash his formidable quartet upon Pizzi’s Chile.
Juventus striker Paolo Dybala has dropped out of Argentina’s squad due to a recurrence of a muscle injury while Boca Juniors frontman Carlos Tevez has been left out of the squad altogether by Martino. Argentina’s defensive rock Javier Mascherano will also be missing out against Chile due to suspension.
Lionel Messi vs Gary Medel
To say that Argentina has missed the presence of Lionel Messi in their ranks is a gross understatement. The World Cup finalists have struggled to break down opposition defences without their talisman, as the opening four qualifying matches have demonstrated only too well.
Messi’s return to full fitness will provide a massive boost to La Albiceleste‘s chances of qualifying for the World Cup, which is the one trophy that still eludes the little magician. Chilean destroyer Gary Medel will be tasked with containing the genius of Lionel Messi as the two sides look to rise up the league table.
Nicolas Otamendi vs Alexis Sanchez
This all Premier League duel will go a long way towards determining the winner of Friday’s match between Chile and Argentina. While Sanchez has not yet discovered his explosive potential that helped catapult Chile to win their first ever Copa America crown last year, Otamendi too has had a tough start to life with his new club Manchester City in the Premier League. However, both will be confident of getting the better of each other in a pivotal qualifying clash for both countries.
Sergio Aguero vs Claudio Bravo
Argentina hitman Sergio “Kun” Aguero has been his country’s most prolific goal scorer in the last couple of years. However, a spate of niggling injuries has curtailed Aguero’s goal output for the national side.
Tata Martino will be heavily banking on the services of the Manchester City hitman to score past Chilean shot-stopper Claudio Bravo. The Barcelona goalie is revered in his native Chile for his penalty shootout heroics in last year’s Copa America final. He will need to be at the top of his game once again if La Roja are to keep out Argentina’s potent strikeforce on Friday night.
Blast from the Past
Argentina 2-0 Chile (2010)
(Juan Roman Riquelme 24′, 45′)