Argentina-Colombia Preview: Conmebol front-runners battle for World Cup place
The home side need just four more points to assure their place in Brazil 2014, but they may have to play without captain Lionel Messi
By Daniel Edwards
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 line-up.
Lionel Messi's presence, meanwhile, is still in doubt. 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, however, 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 round by Venezuela. In an attacking line-up, Cruz Azul striker Teo Gutierrez will enter for Macnelly Torres to partner Radamel Falcao up front, while Carlos Sanchez could also enter for Edwin Valencia in the middle.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Argentina have 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 tournament's top scorer, having netted nine times so far. Lionel Messi and Uruguay frontman Luis Suarez follow the Madrid sharpshooter, with eight each.
- Colombia currently occupy third place in the World Cup standings, and hope to make their 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 of the Argentine league, with past spells in Banfield and Racing Club respectively.
|Sign up with William Hill for a free bet up to £25|
|Sign up with bet365 for a free bet up to £200|
|Sign up to Paddy Power for £250 in free bets|
Top 3 Predictions
Argentina 3-1 Colombia
- 16.25 %
Argentina 2-1 Colombia
- 12.23 %
Argentina 1-2 Colombia
- 11.25 %
|World Cup Qualifying - Conmebol (WCQ)||Jun 7, 2013||Argentina 0 - Colombia 0|
|World Cup Qualifying - Conmebol (WCQ)||Nov 15, 2011||Colombia 1 - Argentina 2|
|Copa America (CA)||Jul 7, 2011||Argentina 0 - Colombia 0|
|World Cup Qualifying - Conmebol (WCQ)||Jun 6, 2009||Argentina 1 - Colombia 0|
|World Cup Qualifying - Conmebol (WCQ)||Nov 20, 2007||Colombia 2 - Argentina 1|
|Mar 5, 2014||Romania 0 - Argentina 0||FR|
|Nov 19, 2013||Argentina 2 - Bosnia 0||FR|
|Nov 16, 2013||Ecuador 0 - Argentina 0||FR|
|Oct 16, 2013||Uruguay 3 - Argentina 2||WCQ|
|Oct 12, 2013||Argentina 3 - Peru 1||WCQ|
|7||Ángel Di María||Midfielder|
|-||José María Basanta||Defender|
|Ángel Di María|
Suspended against Venezuela for the last match in the Monumental, the Real Madrid wideman came back into the team with a lung-busting display in the heights of La Paz, where he had to receive oxygen in the last few minutes. His pace and trickery out on the left gives Argentina real attacking potency when coming forward on the break.
The new Monaco recruit and Ligue 1 record signing is Colombia's top scorer in the qualifiers, with six strikes helping the Cafeteros stride towards Brazil 2014. Against an Argentine defence which still looks fragile, he is more than capable of adding to his tally.
In a match that brings together arguably the two best current teams in South America, a tense, close clash is almost guaranteed. Both sides have ample ability in front of goal, but with qualification almost in the bag a draw would be a decent result for either of Friday's adversaries.
Live Final scheduled Suspended Cancelled Postponed