Belfast Telegraph

Argentina boss defiant but Messi World Cup hopes hang in balance

 

By Robert Jones

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli insists his team must keep the faith with their World Cup hopes in the balance.

The two-time world champions and 2014 runners-up face missing out on the tournament for the first time since 1970 ahead of their final qualifying game in Ecuador.

Argentina currently sit sixth in the 10-team South American section, with only the top four countries qualifying for Russia automatically and the fifth-placed side facing a play-off against New Zealand.

However, such is the compact nature of the standings that six nations go into the final round of fixtures still boasting a chance of joining already-qualified Brazil in securing a top-four berth.

Among them are Argentina, who will guarantee their place in next year's finals if they beat already-eliminated Ecuador and other results go their way.

A draw in Quito might even be enough for Lionel Messi and company to claim at least a play-off berth - providing fifth-placed Peru lose at home to fourth-placed Colombia - but Sampaoli wants his side to keep their destiny in their own hands.

He said: "I'm very confident that if we play with the conviction that we did (against Peru) then we are going to be in the World Cup.

"There is a conviction that strikes me very much."

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