A little over four years ago, Argentina began their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a shock defeat to Ecuador in the Monumental. An injured Lionel Messi was absent that evening in October and while suspension means the Argentina captain will be missing in March, the Albiceleste once more set off on the long road to Qatar against the Tricolor.
Messi of course sealed Argentina’s place in Russia with a memorable hat-trick in Quito to wrap up qualification last time but will have to watch from the sidelines in March as Lionel Scaloni’s side host Ecuador in matchday one.
That suspension, carrying over from Messi’s red card at the Copa América, means the Argentina captain can return for the second fixture of the opening week away to Bolivia.
Lionel Scaloni’s side have shown signs of real improvement over the second half of 2018 and there is a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the national team.
That will of course quickly dissipate if Argentina get off to a slow start yet the 6-1 friendly win over Ecuador in Alicante last October will provide confidence that the Albiceleste can get off to a winning start, something they failed to do under Gerardo Martino in 2015.
A healthy return of points will be vital before October’s international break where a clásico against Uruguay and a trip to Brazil await Argentina.
There are four automatic qualifying spots for Qatar 2022 with the fifth placed side in CONMEBOL facing a playoff to secure a World Cup place.
South American qualification is as difficult as ever and yet Argentina will be hoping it is not as dramatic as last time. While 2022 qualifying will again finish in Quito, La Albiceleste will not want to rely on the individual magic of Messi to progress.