Argentina will hope to extend their unbeaten run when they play hosts to Ecuador at Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti.

The qualification process for the 2022 World Cup is officially underway for South America, as the best four teams look to book their berth at the grandest stage of all. We kick things off with Argentina vs Ecuador at Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti as part of the first round of fixtures, with both teams coming to play their first game in nearly a year.

Argentina have enjoyed a relatively successful two years under Lionel Scaloni who has utilised a fluid counter-attacking system which covers the team’s defensive holes. He has completed just over two years as the coach of La Albiceleste, during which he has won 13 games, lost four and drawn five. Up next, he will take charge of his first qualifiers game, hoping to overcome Ecuador.

Can Lionel Scaloni (R) & co. get back on track? (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Lionel Scaloni (R) & co. get back on track? (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking of, Gustav Alfaro has taken charge of the Ecuador national football team starting from this year after he was relieved of his duties with Boca Juniors. He is yet to manage a single game for the team, but his task will be to turn the poor run of form Ecuador have sustained in the last two years. In their previous outing, Ecuador lost 1-0 to Colombia after a first-half goal from Mateus Uribe.

Argentina came on top as the comfortable victors the last time they crossed paths with Ecuador, registering a 6-1 win in October 2019 in a friendly encounter at Estadio Martinez Valero in Spain. The game became an instant hit for featuring seven different goalscorers for seven goals. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter that will follow.

Team News & Tactics

Argentina

Lionel Scaloni has named a strong 28-man squad which features players from across the top five European leagues. There are four notable absentees, however. Sergio Aguero and Marcos Rojo are unavailable due to injury, while Erik Lamela and Angel Correa have not been called up.

We expect Emiliano Martinez to be handed his debut against Ecuador after enjoying a fantastic campaign with Arsenal, which ended in two trophies for the Argentine, before joining Aston Villa. Ahead of him, screening the goal will be a four-man defence, featuring River Plate’s Gonzalo Montiel as the right-back and Ajax’s Nicolas Tagliafico as the left-back.

In between them, Scaloni has the services of several centre-halves, but it is expected that Lucas Martinez and Nicolas Otamendi will take responsibility as the starters. The latter completed a move to SL Benfica last week and made his debut in a 3-2 win over SC Farense on Sunday. Marcos Acuna is in contention to start as well but is likely to get some minutes in the second half.

Scaloni has a plethora of midfielders to choose from, but we expect the nod to be given to Giovanni Lo Celso on the left of the midfield three, while Udinese’s Rodrigo de Paul takes up space on the right. Leandro Paredes will act as the anchor, with the job of recycling possession to start attacks.

Argentina have always hosted an immense amount of attacking talent, and it is no different this time either as they have named eight attacking options in their squad. The captain’s armband will undoubtedly lie with Lionel Messi and he will be aided in the frontline by Lautaro Martinez. Atalanta captain Alejandro Gomez will come in for his fifth cap with Argentina.

Probable Lineup (4-3-2-1): Martinez; Montiel, Otamendi, Martinez, Tagliafico; de Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso; Messi, Gomez; Lautaro

Ecuador

Gustav Alfaro has chosen a total of 30 players ahead of his two qualifiers in this international break, with no significant injuries or absentees for their game against the two-time world champions.

Alfaro has preferred a 4-4-2 all his coaching career but will have to revert to a 4-3-3. The formation has suited Ecuador the best in the recent past, with players like Enner Valencia and Romario Ibarra thriving in leadership roles in attacking positions.

Those two will take on the pitch again, with Valencia playing through the centre while Ibarra starts on the left side of Ecuador’s attack. His namesake, Renato Ibarra, will complete the line on the right flank.

The midfield will resemble a trio in the attack, but for the most part, it will look like a five-man flat line to supplement the defence. Jhegson Mendez will be the holding midfielder in this setup and will have the duty to organise the shape of the team continually. He will be joined by Angel Mena on his right, while Atletico Mineiro’s Alan Franco starts on the left.

Finally, in defence, the major change will come in the form of Pervis Estupinan, who will come in to replace Diego Palacios on the left side. Estupinan has enjoyed an impressive start to life at Villarreal, keeping two clean sheets in four games, while conceding only two goals in the process.

Angelo Preciado will be responsible for providing width from the right, while two mainstays Felix Torres and Xavier Arreaga start in the heart of the defence. Velez Sarsfield’s starting goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez will take charge of the gloves in the six-yard box.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Dominguez; Preciado, Arreaga, Torres, Estupinan; Mena, Mendez, Franco; Ibarra, Valencia, Ibarra

Key Stats

  • Argentina and Ecuador have faced each other 35 times in the past, with the former winning 20 games, losing five and drawing ten.
  • In the last ten meetings between these two sides, Argentina have won four, while Ecuador have won just two (D4).
  • Ecuador have managed to win away to Argentina only once, in 2015, for 2018’s World Cup qualifiers, when they recorded a 2-0 win.
  • Argentina are unbeaten in their last seven games, winning four and drawing three. Their last loss came against Brazil in the 2019 Copa America.
  • Ecuador, on the other hand, have won just three of their last ten fixtures, losing five of them (D2).

Player to Watch

Alejandro Gomez

Papu needs to be at his level best for Argentina. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Papu needs to be at his level best for Argentina. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Argentina host a colourful pallet of talent in their team, most of all in attack, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Paulo Dybala among others, which helped them reach the semi-finals of the Copa America last year. However, it is difficult to look past arguably one of the best players in the world at the moment, Alejandro Gomez.

Gomez has been Serie A’s standout player for a couple of years and Atalanta’s marquee player for more than five seasons, ending each campaign with goals + assists in double digits. On a personal level, last season was his second-best ever, as he registered seven goals and 16 assists, emerging as one of the top 5 leagues’ best creators.

He returns to the Argentine national team for the first time in three years following an incredible campaign with Atalanta, reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, and he will do his best to leave a mark this time.

Team Prediction

Argentina 4-2 Ecuador

While international games are famously low-scoring, Argentina vs Ecuador is a match that presents a spark in the sand. Both teams boast of quick attackers, with coaches who know how to exploit them in their ruthlessly fast system. With Lionel Messi and Alejandro Gomez on the pitch, you can expect multiple chances to be created, and it is these two men who will make the difference on the night for Argentina.

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