Is the failure to qualify weighing heavily on the shoulders of Messi and the gang?

Published: November 19, 2016
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Lionel Messi during Argentina's 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Colombia in San Juan, Argentina on November 15, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

With the clock fast ticking away for the FIFA World Cup to be held in Russia in summer of 2018, the South American qualifying race is at its pulsating best. The stage is set for a fiercer and much more intense qualifying finale. More than three countries are vying for fifth place for an intercontinental play-off, with the first four countries automatically qualifying in, arguably, the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet.

Being a football fanatic ever since I can remember, I have always rooted for the plucky underdogs of the tournament to win the cup, no matter which part of the world they belong to. But if you want to ask me for my second favourites, it will be the blue and white of La Albiceleste all the way for me.

After the Argentinean side’s four match winless trot including a 3-0 thrashing by the arch nemesis Brazil, and their descend to a perturbing sixth position in the group, it was a moment of ‘phew’ for me after a much-needed 3-0 win against Colombia on Tuesday night.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (10) reacts next to Brazil’s Fernandinho and Marcelo (R).
Photo: Reuters

Even the Argentinean coach Edgardo Bauza was clearly thrilled for the victory especially after his team’s recent harsh and scathing critique at the hands of the footballing pundits. Goals from Lionel Messi, Lucas Pratto and Ángel Di Maria moved them up to fifth place, one point behind the fourth place Ecuador and Chile and also bought them back into the qualifying contention.

“I have not understood or agreed with the criticism of players who have given so much for this team,” said Bauza. “They leave their lives for this shirt and they will continue to do so. They always want to win and are the first to work towards this.”

“It wasn’t an easy match and they solved it very well, very methodically. Our game plan was similar to the one we had against Uruguay (Argentina won 1-0). We had to stop a team who are very dangerous offensively. We defended well and Colombia couldn’t break us down. The result was very important.”

Argentina’s Lucas Pratto (C) is embraced by teammates Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria after he scored his team’s second goal.
Photo: Eurosport

But is the unthinkable potential of failure to qualify weighing heavily on the shoulders of Messi and the gang? Following the win over Colombia, the Argentinean captain led his team to a media walkout after a local radio show allegedly reported that the national team forward Ezequiel Lavezzi smoked marijuana after a team training session, claims which the footballer inarguably denies.

“We’ve received many accusations, a lot of lack of respect and we never said anything,” Messi said.

“We know there are lots of you who are not in the game of not showing us respect, but getting into one’s personal life is very grave,” he added.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi is challenged by Colombia’s James Rodriguez.
Photo: Reuters

Messi and the other 25 members of his team refused to speak to the media until any further notice. But is this protest an after sign of alleviating levels of stress due to the recent run of losses or a strong show of solidarity for an under pressure team member?

The last time La Albiceleste failed to qualify for the World Cup was in Mexico 1970. The Argentineans have appeared 16 times in the prestigious tournament, but will 2018 FIFA World Cup be remembered as the event where we will not be graced with the presence of the true giants of the game? Well I guess, we will find that out much sooner than the summer of 2018.

Hassan Sardar

Hassan Sardar

The author is an aspiring filmmaker and a diehard Liverpool fan. He also teaches Screenwriting and Cinematography, and loves tattoos and flip-flops. He tweets as @CineSardar (twitter.com/CineSardar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.