Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Struggling Argentina seeks improvements

Published:Tuesday | November 15, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) and Brazil's Neymar fight for the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match between Brazil and Argentina at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil last week Thursday. Brazil won the game 3-0.

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP):

Not even the return of Lionel Messi from a three-game absence managed to save Argentina from losing 3-0 to Brazil last week.

The Barcelona star said everything needs to change in its next World Cup qualifier against Colombia today.

The runner-up in 2014, Argentina enters the 12th of 18 rounds of qualifying in sixth place. Only the top four teams are guaranteed a spot in the finals in Russia in 2018, with the fifth-place finisher competing in a four-team intercontinental play-off 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.

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-place Colombia.

 

PLAYERS' SUPPORT

 

Still, the team is under so much pressure that coach Edgardo Bauza needed to proclaim his players support him after only two months on the job.

"The players have supported me since we started working, I see them with a tremendous will. That's the best support I can have," Bauza said. "There is no discussion about the strategy. The biggest problem is that we were scored against eight times. All the rest is easy to solve. We lost points that we weren't expecting to lose."

Many players voiced concerns about their play as soon as the match against Brazil ended. Psychology became the focus of a quick change.

"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."

So far, Argentina has scored only 11 goals - fewer than half of the 26 scored by first-place Brazil. Only Bolivia, with nine goals, has scored fewer.

To fight the struggles on offence, Bauza might replace Gonzalo Higuain with Lucas Pratto, who has often been a reserve for Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro. Argentine media has reported he could make other changes.

Colombia will also be without defenders Yerry Mina and Oscar Murillo, leaving coach JosÈ Pekerman, with three players who have never played for the national team.

A win in Peru basically puts Brazil, which has 24 points through 11 games, through to Russia in 2018. It would be a shocking scenario for a team that, three months ago, was in sixth place in the South American qualifiers.

Edinson Cavani is likely to return to the starting line-up, replacing Cristhian Stuani, after missing second-place Uruguay's game against Chile 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.

A win at Chile nearly assures Uruguay, currently with 23 points, will advance to the World Cup finals.

Chile will count on the return of striker Alexis Sanchez, and midfielder Arturo Vidal is likely to play despite a left leg injury.