Argentina resume their World Cup qualification process this week but the return of Lionel Messi, the replay of the Copa América final against Chile in Santiago and the prospect of building on the positive result in Colombia last time out has been overshadowed by the state of the playing surface in Córdoba, where the Albiceleste play Bolivia in just over a week, and several withdrawals from the squad through injury. Gerardo Martino’s response to the absences has sparked further debate as his decision to hand 28-year-old Lanús forward, Lautaro Acosta a first senior call-up has been widely questioned.
Gerardo Martino still finds himself under a degree of pressure after his failure to end Argentina’s 23-year trophy drought in Chile last summer and a hugely disappointing start to World Cup qualification. The 53-year-old, former Barcelona manager perhaps loosened the noose slightly with victory away to Colombia but as a result of the earlier defeat at home to Ecuador and the goalless draw with Paraguay, Argentina remain outside the qualification places and are currently the lowest scorers in South America.
With this in mind, Argentina remain on something of a precipice and the upcoming double-header with Chile and Bolivia is crucial to easing fears and moving towards qualification.
A reunion with Chile, less than a year on since Alexis Sánchez converted the penalty that handed La Roja their first international title, is already a significant event in the South American footballing calendar. After the departure of Jorge Sampaoli, Chile have turned to another Argentine coach in Juan Antonio Pizzi and in this transitional stage are vulnerable.
Lionel Messi returning from injury for his first taste of 2018 World Cup qualification is a major boost for Gerardo Martino and Argentina will travel to Santiago with more confidence than they would have done at the end of 2015.
However, it has been the AFA’s decision to move Argentina’s home match with Bolivia to the Estadio Mario Kempes in Córdoba that has drawn more headlines in the nation’s media. Following recent concerts by Iron Maiden and Mana, the pitch has been left in a ‘deplorable’ state as Gerardo Martino was quoted and in an effort to have this ready for the national team next Tuesday, ground staff have been working tirelessly to relay part of the turf.
Repairs began today on the pitch in Córdoba where Argentina play Bolivia on March 29th pic.twitter.com/grRraLHCes
— Peter Coates (@golazoargentino) March 17, 2016