Argentina's Lionel Messi stretches during training session of the national soccer team before a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Chile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, March 21, 2017.(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
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The unthinkable prospect of a World Cup without Argentina or Lionel Messi could move a step closer to becoming reality Thursday as the South American giants prepare to face archrivals Chile in a crucial battle on the road to Russia 2018 .Argentina, who last failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1970, saw their progress toward next year's finals go awry in 2016 when back-to-back draws with Venezuela and Peru were followed by defeats against Paraguay and Brazil.A defeat against fourth-placed Chile Thursday in Buenos Aires would leave Argentina further adrift of the automatic qualifying spots.Brazil have transformed their qualifying campaign with six straight victories since new coach Tite took over last year following the Copa America Centenario debacle, where the five-time World Cup winners were eliminated in the group stage.
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