Argentina again struggling in qualifying

BY foxsports • November 14, 2011

There's a new coach, but the same players remain and so do the problems as two-time champion Argentina is again struggling in World Cup qualifying matches against countries once considered walkovers.

Next up is Colombia on Tuesday in the humid port city of Barranquilla. Argentina has played three qualifiers and won only once - a 4-1 victory over Chile. The last two matches have been disasters - a historic 1-0 loss at Venezuela and a 1-1 draw on Saturday against Bolivia in Buenos Aires.

Another loss would leave Argentina with only four points from four matches, raising questions about Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and the same cast of players who have faltered under new coach Alejandro Sabella and predecessors Sergio Batista, Diego Maradona and Alfio Basile.

In other South American qualifiers on Tuesday it's: Venezuela vs. Bolivia, Chile vs. Paraguay, Ecuador vs. Peru. Uruguay, which leads qualifying with seven points in three matches, has the day off.

Unlike Batista and Maradona, Sabella is a respected tactician with many now questioning the desire of long-time regulars like Javier Mascherano, Nicolas Burdisso and Martin Demichelis, whose defensive error resulted in Bolivia's goal.

Sabella is almost sure to make changes against Colombia. Federico Fernandez has been training with the top back line - replacing Demichelis - and Rodrigo Brana, Pablo Guinazu and Jose Sosa could enter at midfield, replacing Javier Pastore, Ricardo Alvarez and Mascherano.

Colombia let a victory slip away on Saturday, giving up a 79th-minute goal to Frank Feltscher for Venezuela to draw 1-1.

''Colombia, after the draw with Venezuela, is going to want three points,'' Burdisso said. ''We're down mentally and we need a game with a difficult opponent to lift our spirits.''

Colombia does not seem intimidated, though it will be missing three regulars with injuries: Radamel Falcao, Carlos Sanchez and Freddy Guarin, who scored against Venezuela.

''Messi is considered the best in the world, but he is just another player - just like we are,'' Colombia midfielder Gustavo Bolivar said. ''He knows what to do with the ball, but we also have players who can do this.''

The Colombians are hoping weather plays a part, with high humidity and 32-degree (90F) temperatures expected and the possibility of rain.

''The heat could be an important factor,'' defender Clemente Rodriquez said. ''They are going to come out and take the game to us.''

South America will take a seven-month break from qualifying after Tuesday, which may give Sabella time to re-think his team. Interest in the national team has faded recently, fallout from constant coaching changes and disappointing performances in the World Cup and Copa America.

Uruguay at the top of the qualifying table with seven points is followed by Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Venezuela with four. Ecuador, Peru and Chile have three and Bolivia has one. Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have played only two matches.

Venezuela has high hopes. A victory over Bolivia would give it seven points and put it in clear contention to qualify for its first World Cup. Venezuela is the only country in the 10-member South American confederation that has not played in the World Cup final.

''This is our best start to World Cup qualifying,'' coach Cesar Farias said. ''We want more, but we can't go crazy.''

Chile faces Paraguay in Santiago and will try to recover from a lopsided 4-0 loss against Copa America champion Uruguay.

''Chile lost badly against Uruguay, but that does not mean it will be easy for us,'' Paraguay coach Francisco Arce said.

Peru faces Ecuador in Quito, where the 2,800-meter (9,200 feet) altitude is always a problem. The thin air also makes the ball travel faster.

''Quito, apart from the altitude, is a tough place to win,'' Peru striker Claudio Pizarro said.

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Stephen Wade can be reached at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP


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