Chile prepare to face Messi’s Argentina with depleted defense

Messi is currently joint top scorer in the South American qualifying group.

BUENOS AIRES: Chile are in disarray as they prepare to face Argentina in a World Cup qualifier at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago Tuesday.

Missing three defenders through suspension after Friday’s 3-1 loss to Ecuador in Quito – their second loss in a row – Chile have struggled to make their all-out attacking game work and have lost their way after making a promising start to the qualification.

Away wins in Bolivia and Venezuela in June put Chile top of the nine-nation group, but poor player discipline has already undermined coach Claudio Borghi.

Argentine Borghi has had to watch the last two defeats from the stands as part of a four-match suspension for insulting the referee during the victory in Venezuela.

A spat with leading club Universidad de Chile was poor preparation for last month’s 3-1 home defeat to a resurgent Colombia.

Media reports in Chile suggest that Borghi has considered quitting, while striker Alexis Sanchez has received criticism for his lack of goals.

Chile have dropped to fifth with 12 points, five behind leaders Argentina halfway through the qualifiers.

The top four at the end will qualify for the 2014 finals in Brazil, with the fifth-placed team meeting an Asian side in a playoff for one more spot.

Defender Pablo Contreras and midfielder Arturo Vidal are suspended after being sent off Friday.

Leftback Osvaldo Gonzalez is also suspended, although midfielder Gary Medel will return.

Chile are also without injured goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and striker Humberto Suazo.

Argentina, who crushed Copa America holders Uruguay 3-0 in Mendoza Friday, travel across the Andes to Santiago as favorites despite some shaky away form, including a fortunate 1-1 draw in Peru last month.

“Chile are a good team. But when a team are not on a winning streak and something happens during a match, it’s harder to bounce back,” Sabella said.

Chile’s penchant for attack and need for points could play into Argentina’s hands.

All Argentina’s world-class front quartet of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria need is a modicum of space to work their magic.

Four years ago, the last time the two teams met in a qualifier in Santiago, the crisis team were Argentina.

Coach Alfio Basile resigned after a 1-0 defeat, the first time Argentina had lost a qualifier to their neighbors, sparking an unstable three-year spell for the twice world champions.

Diego Maradona stepped into the breach and lasted until the 4-0 loss to Germany in the 2010 quarterfinals in South Africa. Sergio Batista took over but was forced out after quarterfinal elimination by Uruguay in the Copa America in Argentina last year.

Alejandro Sabella took charge 14 months ago and made Lionel Messi his captain, reflecting the decision Carlos Bilardo took with Maradona in 1983.

Argentina have blossomed under Sabella and the increasing influence of Messi, who is joint top scorer with Higuain and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2012, on page 15.




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