Tomorrow, Boca Juniors’ ground in Buenos Aires, ‘La Bombonera’, will host the biggest match of this international break. With both nations perched on equal points, only goals scored separate them, and this penultimate round of fixtures will go a long way to deciding which country, if either, will line up against the world’s finest in Russia this summer.
Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina must win to avoid becoming dependant on final day results, a situation that could see them pitted against New Zealand in a last-ditch qualifier. La Albiceleste, who were ranked the world’s best by FIFA going into qualification, have struggled for form and go into this match having lost to Bolivia and drawn their last two matches to Uruguay and Venezuela, respectively.
Peru on the other hand, have been in scintillating form as of late having won their last five fixtures consecutively including a 1-0 victory over 2nd placed Uruguay. Last time around Ricardo Gareca’s men managed a 2-2 draw with Argentina and will hope they can go one step further to put themselves firmly in the driving seat for qualification. Another ominous omen from an Argentine perspective is that the only World Cup they’ve previously failed to qualify for came as a result of failure to beat Peru.
Style of play
The lineups are very hard to predict due to Argentina’s plethora of attacking options and Peru’s suspension crisis. The latter will be without their quartet of Andre Carrillo, Christian Cueva, Paolo Hurtado, and Christian Ramos, whilst the former have to deal with an injury to Sergio Aguero.
Sampaoli’s side will likely start with Mauro Icardi spearing the forward line and look to deploy Lionel Messi from the left wing. This opens space for Paulo Dybala in central attacking midfield who has been sublime for Juventus this season, scoring 12 goals from 11 appearances in all competitions.
Despite such an array of offensive potency, Argentina have struggled for goals from open play and seem to be a team that lacks cohesion and defensive organisation. Sampaoli is a coach in the mould of Marcelo Bielsa who relies heavily on intense pressing and quick vertical passing. Looks amazing when it works, but it’s a tactic that has the potential to fail spectacularly if his ideals aren’t understood and executed correctly.
Peru, like many South-American teams, like to play with flair and attacking intent. Paolo Guerrero of Flamengo is their top scorer in qualifying with five goals and will look to add to that against a less than sturdy defence. And whilst they will try to maintain their own defensive shape, with La Bombonera hosting its first qualifying match in 20 years, the atmosphere and occasion will surely lead to a feisty, end-to-end encounter.
Prediction: Argentina 2-1 Peru
Expect tension, drama and fireworks. Peru are in better form but Argentina undoubtedly boast the lion’s share of talent on display. With manager Gareca stating in his press conference it’s unlikely his team will man mark Messi, it may be the case that a moment of magic from Barcelona’s superstar is enough to settle this tight affair.
Who do you think will win this crucial fixture?
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