Ev­ery­thing must change

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP): NOT EVEN the re­turn of Lionel Messi from a three-game ab­sence man­aged to save Ar­gentina from los­ing 3-0 to Brazil last week.

The Barcelona star said ev­ery­thing needs to change in its next World Cup qual­i­fier against Colom­bia to­day.

The run­ner-up in 2014, Ar­gentina en­ters the 12th of 18 rounds of qual­i­fy­ing in sixth place. Only the top four teams are guar­an­teed a spot in the fi­nals in Rus­sia in 2018, with the fifth-place fin­isher com­pet­ing in a four-team in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal play-off for two spots.

In its last four games, Ar­gentina tied unim­pres­sive Venezuela and Peru, and it lost to Paraguay at home be­fore be­ing dom­i­nated by Brazil.

With 16 points, one back of Ecuador and Chile, Ar­gentina is not com­pletely out of the pic­ture. Its big­gest hur­dle has been its per­for­mance, which play­ers be­lieve will be dif­fer­ent against third-place Colom­bia.

PLAY­ERS’ SUP­PORT

Still, the team is un­der so much pres­sure that coach Edgardo Bauza needed to pro­claim his play­ers sup­port him af­ter only two months on the job.

“The play­ers have sup­ported me since we started work­ing, I see them with a tremen­dous will. That’s the best sup­port I can have,” Bauza said. “There is no dis­cus­sion about the strat­egy. The big­gest prob­lem is that we were scored against eight times. All the rest is easy to solve. We lost points that we weren’t ex­pect­ing to lose.”

Many play­ers voiced con­cerns about their play as soon as the match against Brazil ended. Psy­chol­ogy be­came the fo­cus of a quick change.

“We have to change our mind­set ... be­cause this team has great Ar­gentina’s Lionel Messi (left) and Brazil’s Ney­mar fight for the ball dur­ing a 2018 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing match be­tween Brazil and Ar­gentina at the Es­ta­dio Mineirao in Belo Hor­i­zonte, Brazil, last week Thurs­day. Brazil won the game 3-0.

play­ers,” Messi said. “When one’s head is not fine, the legs do not re­spond.”

So far, Ar­gentina has scored only 11 goals – fewer than half of the 26 scored by first-place Brazil. Only Bo­livia, with nine goals, has scored fewer.

To fight the strug­gles on of­fence, Bauza might re­place Gon­zalo Higuain with Lu­cas Pratto, who has of­ten been a re­serve for Brazil­ian club Atletico Mineiro. Ar­gen­tine me­dia has re­ported he could make other changes.

Colom­bia will also be with­out

de­fend­ers Yerry Mina and Os­car Murillo, leav­ing coach José Pek­er­man, with three play­ers who have never played for the national team.

A win in Peru ba­si­cally puts Brazil, which has 24 points through 11 games, through to Rus­sia in 2018. It would be a shock­ing sce­nario for a team that, three months ago, was in sixth place in the South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers.

Edin­son Ca­vani is likely to re­turn to the start­ing line-up, re­plac­ing Cristhian Stu­ani, af­ter miss­ing sec­ond-place Uruguay’s

game against Chile be­cause of an in­jury.

Coach Os­car Tabarez will also re­place Diego Rolan with Al­varo Gon­za­lez, em­brac­ing a more con­ser­va­tive 4-4-2 strat­egy he has used in away games.

A win at Chile nearly as­sures Uruguay, cur­rently with 23 points, will ad­vance to the World Cup fi­nals.

Chile will count on the re­turn of striker Alexis Sanchez, and mid­fielder Ar­turo Vi­dal is likely to play de­spite a left leg in­jury.

AP

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