If Lionel Messi is to crown
his career with World Cup glory, the road to success will start
on Friday when Argentina meet Chile in their opening qualifier
for the 2014 finals in Brazil.
Argentina entertain the Chileans at the Monumental in Buenos
Aires in one of four matches on the opening day of
the South American group. The section involves nine countries
since hosts Brazil are exempt from qualifying.
South American champions Uruguay, semi-finalists at the 2010
World Cup in South Africa, host Bolivia, Venezuela travel
to Ecuador at high altitude in Quito and losing Copa
America finalists Paraguay visit Peru in Lima.
Argentina's lack of recent success can be traced back to a
qualifier for the previous World Cup when Chile, then coached by
Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, won 1-0 in Santiago.
Chile's first victory over their neighbours in a competitive
match led to the resignation of coach Alfio Basile, the man who
delivered Argentina's last major trophy when he won back to back
Copa America titles in 1991 and 1993 during a previous stint in
Argentina's defeat sparked a rollercoaster of results under
Diego Maradona whose side almost failed to reach the 2010 World
Maradona's team were also humiliated 4-0 by Germany in a
quarter-final in Cape Town and then new coach Sergio Batista
failed with his stated intent to deliver the Copa America title
on home soil earlier this year.
Argentina are itching for revenge over the Chileans with
Messi saying they need to stop the rot of bad results.
"We have to get results once and for all and turn round the
failures because when you win everything gets easier," Messi
told reporters this week.
The Barcelona scoring machine is still looking for his first
goal for Argentina in a competitive match since March 2009, a
two and a half year period in which he has only netted in
New coach Alejandro Sabella is well aware he needs to build
a team that will help captain Messi deliver.
Former skipper Javier Mascherano will be missing through
suspension on Friday while in-form striker Sergio Aguero is
doubtful with a groin injury.
Chile are also two key men short with Alexis Sanchez,
Messi's Barcelona team-mate, recovering from a thigh injury and
midfield enforcer Gary "Pitbull" Medel banned.
There was a scare for Argentina in training on Wednesday
when Martin Demichelis was knocked out in a clash of heads with
Marcos Rojo. But after hospital tests the central defender was
able to return to the squad.
Uruguay's strong side are under no illusions that the
qualifiers could be tougher than the Copa America they won in
July, having advanced to the 2002 and 2010 World Cups through
play-offs with teams from other continents.
However, Bolivia are unlikely to inspire too much fear in
Uruguay having recorded no wins, five draws and six defeats
under coach Gustavo Quinteros since he took charge for the Copa
Uruguayan supporters do not appear to see the match at the
Centenario as an attractive night out, with football association
(AUF) spokesman Matias Faral telling Reuters they had sold only
19,000 of the 54,000 tickets.
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