Messi, Argentina might miss World Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP):
Argentina and Lionel Messi are on the verge of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1970, stumbling to a 0-0 draw against Peru last night before a capacity crowd at Boca Juniors' Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires.
Only one round of qualifying remains in South America, and Argentina is off the pace for direct qualification.
Argentina, the runner-up to Germany three years ago in Brazil, play on Tuesday against Ecuador in the thin air of Quito in the Andes.
The Argentines are in sixth place, with the top four teams advancing automatically to Russia 2018. The fifth-place team can advance by winning an intercontinental play-off against Oceania champion New Zealand.
Several generations of Argentines have no idea what it's like to be out of the World Cup. And that includes Messi, who will turn 31 when the Cup in being played next year in Russia.
This is likely his last chance to win a World Cup for Argentina. So far he has failed to deliver any major trophy for his country of birth.
Argentina had all the possession. Messi had a handful of good chances and hit the post in the first minute of the second half. In a fair world, Argentina would have won by several goals. Dario Benedetto had several chances, too.
In three qualifying matches under new coach Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina have scored just one goal.
The wider South American qualifying campaign is too close to call. Brazil have already qualified, and drew 0-0 against Bolivia on Thursday. Brazil have 38 points, followed by: Uruguay (28), Chile (26), Colombia (26), Peru (25), Argentina (25) and Paraguay (24). Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia are eliminated.
Uruguay are expected to get through the final round on Tuesday. After that, four teams are chasing the two automatic spots.
That will leave two teams trying to reach the play-off, which looms as Argentina's most probable route. The Argentine squad must win at 2,850 metres (9,350 feet) in Quito and get some help.
In other results on Thursday: Paraguay beat Colombia 2-1, Chile beat Ecuador 2-1 and Uruguay was held to a 0-0 draw at Venezuela.
The last matches next Tuesday feature: Uruguay vs Bolivia, Peru vs Colombia, Ecuador vs Argentina, Brazil vs Chile and Paraguay vs Venezuela.