Moment of truth as Argentina seek World Cup berth

first_imgThe two-time World Cup-winners head into the final round of games in sixth place overall, outside the top four positions which grant automatic qualification and trailing fifth-placed Peru, who occupy the playoff spot, on goal difference.Yet with only two points separating third-placed Chile (26 points) with seventh-placed Paraguay (24), any number of permutations are possible.Argentina can simplify the equation for their fans, however, if they manage to take all three points.Argentina’s Lionel Messi arrives at a hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on October 8, 2017, two days ahead of their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier match against Ecuador © AFP / RODRIGO BUENDIAA victory would guarantee they finish no worse than fifth place, putting them into a two-legged play-off against New Zealand they would be expected to win.But achieving victory in the thin air of Quito, which is 2,850 metres (9,350 feet) above sea level, may be easier said than done.The Argentinians have an abysmal record in away games against Ecuador, with their last victory in Quito coming in 2001.Since then in World Cup qualifying games, they have been beaten twice, in 2005 and 2009, before scraping a 1-1 draw in 2013.Moreover, Argentina face their moment of truth after a series of uninspiring performances that has left the rest of the footballing world scratching its head at how a squad bristling with so much attacking talent has found scoring so difficult.– ‘Hanging on’ –Chilean national football team players take part in a training session at the Sao Paulo FC training center, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 8, 2017, two days ahead of their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier match against Brazil © AFP / Miguel SCHINCARIOLDespite being able to call upon Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria throughout the campaign, Argentina have only scored 16 times in 17 games.Last Thursday’s 0-0 stalemate with Peru in Buenos Aires was Argentina’s third consecutive draw. The Albiceleste have now scored only once in their past four qualifying games.Sampaoli attempted to break that cycle last week with the surprise selection of Dario Benedetto in attack, a gamble that failed to pay off after the Boca Juniors striker missed a string of chances.It is unclear whether Sampaoli will persist with Benedetto again on Tuesday.While Messi and his team-mates attempt to adjust to the lung-busting challenge of playing at altitude, millions of compatriots will be holding their breath.The sense of anxiety was reflected by La Nacion newspaper. “Argentina is not on the edge of the precipice – it is hanging on the cornice vertically,” the paper commented.Elsewhere on Tuesday, Chile could seal their qualification with victory over Brazil in Sao Paulo. Brazil have already qualified for the finals and are guaranteed top spot.Uruguay meanwhile need only take a point in their home qualifier against already-eliminated Bolivia to be certain of progressing.One of the most high-stakes games comes in Lima, where Peru will aim to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 1982 when they take on Colombia.Colombia were moments from qualifying for the World Cup last Thursday before two last-gasp goals from Paraguay turned a 1-0 win into a 2-1 defeat.That win kept Paraguay’s qualification bid alive and a home win over Venezuela on Tuesday could see them seal their place to Russia depending on results elsewhere.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000Argentina’s goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin (L) fails to stop the ball next to Nahuel Guzman during a training session in Buenos Aires, on October 6, 2017, four days ahead of their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier match against Ecuador in Quito © AFP/File / JUAN MABROMATAMONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Oct 9 – The once unfathomable prospect of a World Cup without Lionel Messi and Argentina could become reality on Tuesday as South America’s thrilling 2018 qualification battle reaches its climax.Two years after Argentina kicked off their troubled campaign with a 2-0 defeat at home to Ecuador, Jorge Sampaoli’s side travel to Quito to face La Tri once more with their hopes hanging precariously.last_img read more

Watford stun Spurs to extend perfect start

first_imgIt remains to be seen how long Javi Gracia’s third-placed side can remain among the upper echelon, but this win confirmed they are currently there on merit.They have won their first four league games for the first time since 1988 and remarkably sit level on points with leaders Liverpool and second-placed Chelsea heading into the international break.Having beaten Brighton, Burnley and Crystal Palace in their opening three games, this was Watford’s first test against a top six side.Tottenham arrived with an unbeaten record of their own to protect, having won 3-0 at Manchester United in their previous league game.But Watford rose to the challenge to secure a first league win against Tottenham since 1987 — underlining their status as the league’s surprise package.For Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, this was a concerning defeat.The result means his side have lost early ground to their main rivals and the way his side was overpowered during the final half hour was alarming.Had Harry Kane not sent a late headed chance over the bar, Pochettino would have considered a draw to be reasonable reward against obstinate opponents.Defeat, though, highlighted Tottenham’s lack of cutting edge, with Lucas Moura the only player to consistently threaten, while the manner in which they conceded was cause for concern.Pochettino made three changes to the side that won so convincingly at Old Trafford.– Laboured Spurs –Michel Vorm deputised for Hugo Lloris, the goalkeeper and captain who was ruled out with a thigh problem, while defenders Ben Davies and Davinson Sanchez came in for Danny Rose and Eric Dier.Initially, though, Spurs’ problems appeared to lie further up the pitch during a laboured first half — not that Watford displayed much attacking threat of their own in the first half.There was a much greater sense of urgency after the break — initially from Tottenham — with Moura and Christian Eriksen at the forefront of Tottenham’s improved efforts.Christian Kasabele’s poor clearing header allowed Moura the opportunity to collect the ball on the right hand side of the box and drill in a cross that deflected off the backtracking Doucoure and past keeper Ben Foster.At that point there seemed little chance that Watford’s dismal record against Spurs was about to change.Gracia’s side, though, have already demonstrated commendable resilience this season and the way they responded confirmed their growing stature.For the first time in the game they applied sustained pressure and were unfortunate not to equalise when Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld headed Deeney’s cross against bar and post.Spurs were rattled and confirmation the balance of the game had shifted came in the 69th minute when Deeney headed home from Jose Holebas’ free-kick.Then seven minutes later, Pochettino’s side were unable to deal with another set-piece when Cathcart met Will Hughes’ corner to head past Vorm.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000Watford duo Craig Cathcart and Troy Deeney celebrate as Tottenham suffer a surprise defeat © AFP / OLLY GREENWOODWATFORD, United Kingdom, Sep 2 – Watford’s stunning start to the season hit a new high as they made it four successive Premier League wins with a shock 2-1 success against Tottenham on Sunday.Having fallen behind to Abdoulaye Doucoure’s 54th minute own goal, Watford responded impressively, recovering to claim the points through headers from Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart.last_img read more