Though they have the potential to kick-start their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign much like they did four years ago before the last go-round’s runner-up finish, Argentina could enter Tuesday’s matchup with Colombia in Barranquilla without star midfielder Javier Mascherano.
Already missing top scorers and talisman Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Carlos Tevez, the 31-year-old Mascherno reportedly suffered a muscle spasm during Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Brazil last week, leaving his status against dangerous Colombia in doubt.
After three matches Argentina and manager Gerardo Martino are winless in these qualifying stages with only two points and second from the bottom on the CONMEBOL table and eight back of the 10-group leader Ecuador.
According to SkySports, Martino said he will wait to see how Mascherno’s recovery progresses leading up to the match before making any switches in his lineup.
Argentina last struggled in the opening qualifying rounds of 2014’s tournament, but were able to turn their fortunes around on Colombia’s home soil with a 2-1 victory and catapulted back into contention.
But that squad had Messi and Aguero in tow, and injuries left Martino to rely on Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, and Ezequiel Lavezzi with Mascherno pulling the strings from midfield against the Brazilians.
Martino’s moves nearly worked when Lavezzi powered his goal through in the 34 th minute, but Argentina collapsed in the closing stages even after Brazil defender David Luiz was sent off in the 88 th minute and they allowed an equalizer to Lucas Lima to remain winless.
Nevertheless, Colombia won’t be at full strength either as it tries to move up from sixth on the qualifying table and away from a four-point logjam with Brazil and Paraguay.
Atletico Madrid star striker Jackson Martinez has already been ruled out by manager Jose Pekerman after the 29-year-old sustained a sprained ankle against the Chileans, according to Goal.com.
Los Cafeteros were also dealt blows to their midfield and backline against Chile, with midfielder Carlos Sanchez and defender Santiago Arias were each issued their second yellow cards and forced to serve a one-game ban.
The darlings of 2014’s tournament soundly beat Peru 2-0 to open the qualifying round, but their 3-0 letdown to Uruguay, and last week’s 1-1 draw with Chile have left them fighting for points.
But Colombia will be thirsty not only for advancement on the table for their recent play against Argentina. Los Cafeteros are winless in their last five matches with Argentina, including a 0-0 (5-4) loss on penalties in this past summer’s Copa America.
Prediction: Colombia over Argentina, 2-1