Argentina will not hold back, despite having already qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals next year and losing four top players, including Lionel Messi, to injury when they host Peru in a qualifier today.
Coach Alejandro Sabella will also be without Gonzalo Higuain, Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano, normal shoe-ins to his first-choice team, for the match at the Monumental and their last qualifier away against Uruguay on Tuesday next week.
Argentina’s goal is to win the South American group as a response to the difficulties they had in qualifying under former coach Diego Maradona four years ago for the 2010 finals in South Africa, winger Angel di Maria said on Tuesday.
“That time no one gave us anything, we had to fight to the bitter end. In this series we’re going to do the same and try to get the [remaining] six points to be champions of the qualifiers,” said Di Maria, who with Messi, Higuain and Sergio Aguero is part of Argentina’s potent attacking quartet.
“Before the match with Paraguay, we talked about wanting to depend only on ourselves, feel the responsibility of winning and being at the World Cup. We did it and it was a good feeling for all of us,” he told reporters after practice at the Ezeiza training complex on the outskirts of the capital.
Four years ago, Maradona’s team went into the corresponding two qualifiers against Peru and Uruguay with qualification in the balance.
A dramatic victory in a downpour, secured with a late winner by substitute Martin Palermo and memorably celebrated by the overweight Maradona diving onto the waterlogged Monumental pitch, eased the tension.
Four days later, Argentina sneaked into the tournament in South Africa with a 1-0 win over Uruguay at the Centenario in Montevideo and Maradona insulted Argentine reporters who had dared to doubt his abilities as national team coach.
Sabella’s team, in contrast, coasted into next year’s finals in Brazil two matches to spare after a 5-2 victory over Paraguay in Asuncion last month, taking the pressure off during the visit by eliminated Peru and the trip to Uruguay.
Argentina have 29 points from 14 matches, three points more than Colombia, who need one point from today’s match at home to Chile to secure their first ticket to the finals for 16 years.
Chile on 24 points and Ecuador on 22 are in the other two automatic qualifying places, with Uruguay, also on 22 points, in the berth that leads to a playoff with Jordan.
Uruguay visit Quito for a key clash with Ecuador today.