Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/13
Paraguay are set to welcome Argentina to the Estadio Defensores del Chaco in Asuncion on Friday evening (past midnight in most of Europe), to do battle in what will be the 10th match of the World Cup qualifiers for the hosts, and the ninth for the visitors.
These two teams met in the group stages of the Copa America this year, and even though Argentina emerged victorious (1-0, courtesy of Alejandro Dario Gomez), Paraguay advanced as the third-place team in Group A, but only to suffer defeat at the hands of Peru on penalties in a highly controversial and exciting quarterfinal.
After the tournament, Eduardo Berizzo’s team were beaten in the World Cup qualifications 2-0 away to Ecuador, then played a 1-1 draw at home against Colombia, and eventually managed to beat Venezuela at home by 2-1.
Paraguay failed to qualify for the last two editions of the World Cup after reaching the quarterfinals in 2010 in South Africa, so they will obviously be hoping that the third time proves lucky. At the moment, they are sixth in the CONMEBOL table with 11 points, two less than Ecuador and Colombia in the fourth and fifth, respectively, and three more than seven-place Peru. After Argentina, they will travel to face Chile and Bolivia before the international break is over.
Even though they suffered only two defeats in the nine games they’ve played so far, Paraguay managed to win also two, both against Venezuela at the bottom, and their inability to go the extra mile in the five draws might just cost them a place in Qatar.
Defenders David Martinez and Blas Riveros will miss this match through injury, and Santiago Arzamendia is likely to start at the back in their absence. Meanwhile, twins Angel (winger) and Oscar (midfielder) Romero should make the lineup, with Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron also pushing for a start.
As for Argentina, many in the world of football were relieved to see Lionel Messi win his first-ever international trophy (as strange as that sounds) when they beat Brazil in the final of the Copa this year. Of course, things went downhill for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner afterwards as Barcelona failed to find a way to secure his continued employment, and having cried at his farewell press-conference, he joined Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent.
In September, Argentina beat Venezuela away by 1-3 before traveling to take on Brazil in the match that was controversially suspended, with the Brazilian authorities claiming that several Argentina internationals were in breach of their COVID-19 regulations. The date of the replay is yet to be decided, but Lionel Scaloni’s men bounced back from the disappointment of that day by thrashing Bolivia 3-0 at home – courtesy of a Messi hat-trick.
Having won five and drawn three matches so far, Argentina have 18 points to their name, six less than Brazil, the only team to have won every (completed) match so far. Uruguay in third place have 15.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, Tottenham Hotspur defender Cristian Romero and midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, who were the subjects of dispute for the match in Brazil along with Villa winger Emiliano Buendia, have been given the green light to play. Scaloni has not called up Buendia this month. There will be no Paulo Dybala or Sergio Aguero, with both forwards out through injury. Messi is therefore likely to be accompanied by Lautaro Martinez upfront.
Paraguay are likely to have a hard time containing the champions of the continent – Argentina are the clear favourites to win regardless of the venue of the match.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/13
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