We preview Friday morning's CONEMBOL World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Chile.
In terms of importance, this encounter has to be the defining tie this week. I know that Uruguay and Brazil meet in a top of the table clash, but this rehash of the Copa America final is positively bristling with pertinence. Argentina stood a highly realistic chance of not qualifying before the last round of fixtures, a possibility that’s basically heretical in footballing terms.
Ever since Maradona captured the imagination of millions, the Argentine side has been one of the most iconic sides in world football. Edgardo Bauza’s side have steadied the ship but know that defeat to a motivated Chilean side could see them lose further ground. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side will have little sympathy for Argentina’s situation and Messi’s grand narrative of finally lifting the trophy. His side are deeply embroiled in the hunt for qualification and currently sit only one point above their counterparts.
Argentina v Chile | Friday 24 March | Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti | 01:30
To Win (90 Mins)
Argentina 5/10 | Draw 3/1 | Chile 57/10
Bauza has come under a fair degree of criticism for not including Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi. The somewhat controversial figure at the helm of the Inter ship has been the center of some vitriolic scorn from his own club’s fans following comments he made in a recent autobiography: there is something rather noxious about 24-year-old footballers releasing autobiographies.
Lionel Messi clearly carries the weight of a nation and has been in exceptional form for Barcelona. He will likely lead a front three that will consist of him, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain. Carlos Tevez’s move to China has seen him deemed surplus to requirements while Dybala is an interesting option off the bench.
Bauza’s side will likely adopt a typical 4-3-3 formation that seems pervasive amongst South American sides. They will attempt to stretch the pugnacious Chilean side and exploit a backline that has some less experienced faces. Lucas Biglia and Xavier Mascherano are going to be vital in this game.
Chile have gained midfield ascendancy against Argentina in recent matches due to their sheer abrasiveness in the heart of the field. The likes of Vidal and Aranguiz - whilst being technically superb players in their own right - are just ferocious and Argentina will need to keep them quiet. That is key in stopping service to Vargas and Sanchez.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side will probably feel that they need at least a point this week. Atlanta midfielder Carlos Carmona has been recalled to the squad and will likely help shore up the midfield area, giving it that typically brutish dimension.
Claudio Bravo’s extremely indifferent form at City will be a source of concern for Pizzi as Argentina will no doubt be looking to test that fragility at every opportunity.
Alexis Sanchez is key. The Arsenal star - whilst playing the role of arch-miserabilist at club level - is a vital and impassioned member of this national side. His link up play with Vargas and stunning work rate sets the tone that the entire team follows.
I think he will be relishing the prospect of attacking fellow Premier League players like Funes-Mori and Otomendi. Vidal will look to control the middle of the park as Chile look to attack in slightly narrower corridors to Argentina, setting this up as a fascinating contrast of 4-3-3 formations.
Verdict: Total Goals - Under 2.5 - 4/5
This one seems impossible to call. My heart is leaning the direction of Argentina, with the prospect of a World Cup sans Messi somewhat unpalatable. However, Chile have had the recent rub over Argentina and are just a fiercely competitive unit.
I think whatever the result, it’s going to be a tight affair with just the odd goal separating the two sides. And I don’t expect either side to go on a rampage this week.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets