As the enduring South American World Cup qualifying process draws to a close, football fans are left contemplating the possibility of a World Cup without Lionel Messi and Argentina.
A disparaging draw with Peru last week has left La Albiceleste desperately needing a victory over Ecuador tonight if they want to save their dwindling World Cup hopes.
Although Argentina have lost two out of their last three games in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, Betway’s Alan Alger told SBC: “It’s still very likely they qualify, obviously. A win guarantees at the very least a play-off against New Zealand for which they’d be very strong favourites over two legs.
“If they win and Brazil don’t lose at home to Chile they qualify automatically. There are a few other scenarios that a draw will also see them qualify automatically.There doesn’t appear too much motivation for Ecuador who have lost their last five qualifiers.
The new Head of Sports at LeoVegas, Riku Jokela added: “The last World Cup Argentina have missed was in 1970. Ecuador away won’t be an easy match for Argentina considering the massive pressure and the fact that the match is played at 2,850 metres in the thin air of Quito.
“However, we strongly think that Argentina’s star players will step-up and they will get the crucial win, then it’ll be up to other results in the group to ultimately decide whether they will qualify directly or whether they need to face New Zealand in the Play-offs or not. In case of Playoffs, we strongly believe that Argentina have got what it takes to beat New Zealand in two-legged tie.”
Jokela continued: “If Argentina didn’t make it to the tournament- there would be an impact on outright odds as Argentina are currently #5 favourite to win World Cup 2018 – other favourites’ odds like Germany’s, France’s, Brazil’s, Spain’s, Belgium’s and England’s would naturally drop a bit. In general, a World Cup without Argentina, Messi, and other Argentinian star players would likely lose a bit of its charm.
Furthermore, Jorge Sampaoli’s side are currently 10/1 outsiders to go one step further in Russia next Summer, then they did at Brazil in 2014, where they suffered an excruciating extra time final defeat at the hands of Mario Götze and Germany.
If Argentina make it to Russia, at the age of 30 it maybe Messi’s last chance to capture international honours, something that Alger anticipates will lead to their misfiring qualifying campaign becoming a distant memory for punters.
Alger commented that: “We feel most punters will have forgotten the qualifying process by the time the tournament is near approaching and still be backing Argentina because of the Messi factor regardless of their current struggles.”
Jokela agreed that for Argentina the “World Cup 2018 is a whole new ball game from the Qualifying campaign and if/when Argentina qualify for the tournament, they might be much stronger and united team after a more than challenging World Cup Qualifying campaign. At the end of day, when they have got a good day they can beat any team in the world with players like Messi, Dybala, Agüero, Icardi, Di Maria, Otamendi and Mascherano.”