Jorge Sampaoli prepares for his competitive debut as Argentina boss as World Cup qualification enters the crucial stage for the Albiceleste. Argentina travel to Estadio Centenario determined to leapfrog out-of-form Uruguay in the standings as South American giants square off on Thursday night in Montevideo.
Can Uruguay bounce back after three straight defeats?
Things have been hard on Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay who have lost three qualifying matches on the trot. Consistency is hard to maintain when you play a total of 18 rounds over more than two years, but Uruguay have a lot of questions to answer after failing to maintain the momentum from the opening stages of the qualifying process. La Celeste were leading the pack after six rounds of the competition, but are sitting in third place ahead of the 15th round and the crucial Argentina qualifier. Only a point behind the second-placed Colombia, Uruguay still have every chance of making it to Russia but only if they manage to grab all three points. History tells us it will be easier said than done as Uruguay lost six of the last eight meetings with Argentina. Their task will be even more difficult knowing that Barcelona star Luis Suarez is injured for both the Thursday’s game and the Paraguay match after that. Oscar Tabarez’s attacking plans will rest largely on the shoulders of PSG striker Edinson Cavani, which could be a problem against a side as strong as Argentina.
Luis Suarez promised to join up with his teammates despite being ruled out for a month due to the Spanish Super Cup knee injury he sustained against Real Madrid. Hull City forward Abel Hernandez is also missing out through injury, whereas PSV new boy Gaston Pereiro has received his first-ever call-up.
Two-time world champions Argentina haven’t had the best of luck internationally over the past couple of years and the arrival of former Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli is intended to change the fortunes for the Albiceleste. Questions have been raised whether former Chile boss was the right man to unlock the best version of Lionel Messi for the Argentina national team. Messi has long been criticized for his failure to emulate the club performances and translate it to the national level, although one of the best players in the world indeed was a key presence for the team that reached three consecutive international finals. One defeat and four wins in Argentina’s last five matches offer some promise and encouragement ahead of the crucial battles against Uruguay and Peru. Potential failure to win both of their games will leave Argentina in danger of missing out on the showpiece tournament in Russia next year, which would be the first time such a thing happens since 1970. Argentina are currently sitting in fifth, one point behind Chile and Uruguay and two behind the second-placed Colombia. There is a big crowd at the top of the CONMEBOL standings as all of the aforementioned teams battle for the remaining three automatic qualification places behind Brazil, who have already secured their Russian visas.
Argentina will be without the services of West Ham star Manuel Lanzini who was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. Fortunately, Sampaoli will have no further absentees.
Argentina’s track record against Uruguay speaks for itself. The Albiceleste are expected to be on top of their game against attack-oriented Sampaoli who will be looking to make an impression in his competitive debut. Uruguay are without Suarez and without self-confidence needed to defeat such a prominent rival so we’ll go with the away win here.
Top pick: Argentina 2.25 (5/4) @BetVictor
Alternative pick 1: Messi to score anytime 2.05 (21/20) @WilliamHill
Alternative pick 2: Messi to score & Argentina to win 3.00 (2/1) @SkyBet