Messi, Argentina on verge of missing World Cup finals

AP, RIO DE JANEIRO

Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 16

It is getting late for Lionel Messi, who will be 31 during next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.

He is yet to deliver a major trophy for Argentina and it might not happen next year. In fact, Messi and Argentina might not even get there.

Argentina are on the verge of missing the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970 after stumbling to a 0-0 draw against Peru before a capacity crowd on Thursday at Boca Juniors’ Bombonera in Buenos Aires — one of the dominant home-field advantages in all of world soccer.

Only one day of qualifying games remains in South America and Argentina are off the pace for direct qualification.

“Our situation is not very comfortable, but it depends on us,” Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Argentina, the runners-up to Germany three years ago in Brazil, play on Tuesday against Ecuador in the thin air of Quito in the Andes.

They are in sixth place, with the top four teams advancing automatically to Russia. The fifth-placed team can advance by winning an intercontinental playoff against Oceania champions New Zealand.

Several generations of Argentines have no idea what it is like to be out of the World Cup finals and that includes Messi.

Argentina had all the possession. Messi had a handful of good chances and hit the post in the first minute of the second half.

In a fair world, Argentina would have won by several goals. Dario Benedetto had several chances, too.

In three qualifying matches under Sampaoli, Argentina have scored just one goal.

Sampaoli tried to sound upbeat.

“I remain confident we’ll be in the World Cup,” he said. “It would really be unfair if a group that put it all out there — like they did — does not advance. Throughout the game we had a marked advantage against them, but we could not break through.”

Peru’s Argentina-born coach Ricardo Garcea was happier.

“Getting a result in Argentina is really difficult, but qualifying now depends only on us, which is important,” Garcea said.