World Cup Qualifying Preview: Argentina - Colombia

The home side needs just four more points to assure its place in Brazil 2014, but it may have to play without captain Lionel Messi.

One definite absence for Argentina is Fernando Gago, who will be unable to resume his partnership with Javier Mascherano in the middle. The Velez Sarsfield man has suffered a torrid 2013 with injuries, and will be replaced by Lucas Biglia in an otherwise familiar-looking Albiceleste lineup.

Lionel Messi's presence, meanwhile, is still a question mark. The Barcelona star was included in the squad, and reports from training suggest that he will be fit to take the captain's armband against Colombia. With questions remaining over whether he is ready to play, though, coach Alejandro Sabella has refused to confirm his place in the first XI. Erik Lamela or Ezequiel Lavezzi are prime candidates to step in should he be unavailable.

Jose Pekerman is expected to make several changes from the team that was defeated last time around by Venezuela. In an attacking lineup, Cruz Azul striker Teo Gutierrez will enter for Macnelly Torres to partner with Radamel Falcao up front, while Carlos Sanchez could also enter for Edwin Valencia in the middle.

  • Argentina has lost just one match in the World Cup qualifying campaign: a 1-0 defeat away to Venezuela.
  • Since then the Albiceleste have won six of their nine matches on their way to the CONMEBOL summit, drawing twice against Bolivia and away to Peru.
  • Gonzalo Higuain (pictured, right) is the region's top scorer in qualifying, having netted nine times so far. Lionel Messi and Uruguay frontman Luis Suarez follow the Madrid sharpshooter, with eight apiece.
  • Colombia currently occupies third place in the World Cup qualifying standings and hopes to make its first finals since 1998.
  • Argentina's Monumental Stadium will be familiar territory for Radamel Falcao and Mario Yepes, both of whom represented River Plate.
  • James Rodriguez and Teo Gutierrez are the other Colombia starters with experience in the Argentine league, with past spells in Banfield and Racing Club, respectively.