Argentina to take on Qatar in Copa America
Argentine superstar Lionel Messi trains on June 21, 2019, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, ahead of a crucial Copa America group stage match against Qatar. EPA-EFE
Porto Alegre (Brazil), Jun 22 (efe-epa).- The Argentine national team has been used to having hard times in major competitions and the 2019 Copa America will be no different as it takes on Qatar with the fear of being eliminated if the Gulf country pulls off a victory.
There is no room for error for the Argentine squad, as already happened at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia when their only chance to make the second round was to beat Nigeria.
Defender Marcos Rojo saved the day and scored the winner with four minutes to go to defeat Nigeria 2-1.
A few months earlier, Argentina nearly failed to qualify for the World Cup if not for star Lionel Messi who scored a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Ecuador.
Heading into the final matchday of the round-robin, Argentina is the Group B bottom-team with only one point, having lost to Colombia 2-0 in their opener and then a vital 1-1 draw against Paraguay.
A defeat by the invited team would be a historic failure for Argentina in a tournament of which only four out of 12 teams are eliminated.
In fact, Argentina has never failed to make the second round of the continental tournament since the actual format was introduced and it has managed to qualify for the quarterfinals at least in every single tournament appearance.
A draw against Qatar would leave Argentina’s hopes of a quarterfinal place dependent on the outcome of the other Group B match pitting Colombia against Paraguay.
In that case, Argentina would advance in the tournament as one of the best third-placed teams if Colombia defeats Paraguay at least 2-0 in a match that will be held simultaneously.
Argentina’s hopes will rest once more on the shoulder of Messi, who has been criticized over the team’s poor performance.
To avoid a catastrophe, drastic changes are expected to be made into the starting lineup by coach Lionel Scaloni, who has yet to find the best formula to bring out the best in his players.
Scaloni is likely to play three forwards, Sergio Agüero and Lautaro Martinez besides the Barcelona star.
Messi is the only player in the Argentina roster who has played Qatar in their lone previous match between them, which was in 2005 when the South American team won 3-0.
At the other end of the pitch will be Qatar, the AFC Asian Cup reigning champion, which has proved that it is a difficult team to defeat.
Qatar rallied to earn a 2-2 draw against Paraguay in its opener and then conceded a late goal against Colombia to lose 1-0.
The team, led by Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, takes part in the tournament with the aim of gaining experience ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, which it will host.
Sanchez is expected to repeat the starting lineup from the previous two matches hoping to be the first non-American team to make the second round of the tournament, a feat Japan is also trying to achieve in Group C.
Qatar: Saad Al Sheeb; Pedro Miguel Correia, Bassam Hisham, Boualem Khoukhi, Tarek Salman, Abdelkarim Hassan; Hassan Al Heidos, Assim Madibo, Abdulaziz Hatem; Akram Afif and Almoez Ali.
Coach: Felix Sanchez.
Argentina: Franco Armani; Milton Casco, Germán Pezzella, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Marcos Acuña, Leandro Paredes, Giovanni Lo Celso; Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Lautaro Martínez.
Coach: Lionel Scaloni.
Referee: Julio Bascuñán (Chile).
Venue: Porto Alegre’s Arena do Grêmio.