Gerardo Martino will be hoping in-form attacker Sergio Aguero can replicate his club form at international level when Argentina host Ecuador in the opening round of South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
This year’s beaten Copa America finalists will have to make do without star man Lionel Messi after the forward sustained a knee injury in Barcelona’s La Liga win over Las Palmas last month.
Aguero in particular seems to be the man to watch for Argentina after he netted five goals in Manchester City’s 6-1 victory over Newcastle on Saturday.
The 27-year-old has so far scored 32 goals in 68 appearances for his national team and needs only two more to catch the legendary Diego Maradona in Argentina’s all-time goalscoring charts.
Aguero netted once when Argentina last met Ecuador in April and he will be hoping for more goals in Buenos Aires on Friday.
The City star is by no means Martino’s only alternative in the absence of Messi though, as Juventus forward Paulo Dybala will also be determined to prove his worth.
“We had the chance to call a player like Dybala,” Martino said to Ole. “We did it so he can get himself familiarised with the team.
“He’s a player with enormous potential, he’s become a star in one of the toughest leagues in the world. Paulo is a good lad, when the head is right it means there is more chance of good things happening naturally.”
In addition to Messi, Marcos Rojo, Ever Banega and Enzo Perez are all unavailable too, while Gonzalo Higuain was left out for tactical reasons.
Ecuador, meanwhile, are without one of their star players, with Enner Valencia still sidelined by a calf injury.
The West Ham forward is not his side’s only absentee however, as Osbaldo Lastra, Ely Esterilla and Jonathan Gonzalez were all left out due to fitness problems.
Head coach Gustavo Quinteros will be relying on Felipe Caicedo for goals, with the Espanyol striker sitting eighth in his country’s all-time goalscoring charts with 15 goals.
Ecuador face a tough task to bag the full three points against Martino’s men, but they will be hopeful of getting at least a draw from Friday’s game.
They have not won any of their last five encounters with Argentina, although they did come away with a point on three occasions.
Quinteros’ side will have to fare better than they did at the Copa America in June and July, when they crashed out in the group stages after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Bolivia.
Argentina made it to the final, losing to hosts Chile on penalties in the final.
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