South American football heavyweights Argentina and Chile will be seeking to bounce back from their poor outings in the World Cup 2018 qualification campaigns when they host Colombia and Uruguay respectively.
While Chile held Colombia to a goalless draw in Barranquilla, Argentina were thrashed 3-0 by Brazil in Belo Horizonte.
That loss means Lionel Messi and company enter their 12th of 18 rounds of qualifying matches tonight in sixth place. Only four teams are guaranteed a spot in the finals in Russia in 2018 with the fifth-place finisher competing in a four –team intercontinental playoff for two spots.
In its last four games, Argentina tied unimpressive Venezuela and Peru, and it lost to Paraguay at home before being dominated by Brazil.
The Barcelona star said everything needs to change in their clash with Colombia at the Estadio del Bicentenario San Juan.
“We have to change our mindset … because this team has great players,” Messi said. “When one’s head is not fine, the legs do not respond.”
With 16 points, one back of Ecuador and Chile, Argentina is not completely out of the picture. Its biggest hurdle has been its performance, which players believe will be different against third-placed Colombia.
Colombia will be without defenders Yerry Mina and Oscar Murillo, leaving coach Jose Pekerman with three players who have never played for the national team to partner in defence against the attacking talents posed by their opponents.
Goalkeeper David Ospina has said there is no way to contain Messi, but that his team must to try to do so.
“There is no way to stop Messi,” said the Arsenal shot stopper at a news conference ahead of the match. “We know who he is, how important he is for Argentina and the level of player that he is.”
However, the 28-year-old warned that Argentina were about more than just the Barcelona star.
“We will be trying to play our game,” he said. “We are playing against the entire Argentina squad, not just Messi. He is surrounded by players of great quality, so we must be careful of everyone.”
Colombia last won in Argentina in 1993, when they triumphed 5-0. Since then, they have played a total of 11 games with just one victory compared to seven for Argentina.
In Santiago, Chile will be hoping the return of forward Alexis Sanchez can lift them against Uruguay.
Midfielder Arturo Vidal is also likely to play despite a left leg injury. The Copa American champions are currently in fifth place with 16 points. A loss at home will leave their opponents on the verge of reaching Russia in 2018.
Uruguay are second with 23 points, just one behind leaders Brazil who could as well confirm their place in the finals with victory away in Peru.
Edinson Cavani is likely to return to the starting lineup, replacing Cristhian Stuani, after missing out last time because of an injury.
Coach Oscar Tabarez will also replace Diego Rolan with Alvaro Gonzalez, embracing a more conservative 4-4-2 strategy he has used in away games.
Elsewhere, fourth-place Ecuador hosts bottom side Venezuela and Bolivia will face Paraguay.
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