Argentina face a daunting trip to Colombia on Tuesday as they chase an elusive first victory on the road to the 2018 World Cup after making the worst start to a qualifying campaign in their history.
The injury-hit South American giants have taken just two points from their opening three matches, leaving them languishing in second to last place in the qualifying competition comprising 10 teams.
While there is still plenty of time to turn their campaign around — 15 more games including Tuesday’s match in Barranquilla-an unmistakeable mood of gloom has enveloped the Argentinian camp.
The bitter disappointment of failing to win the Copa America in Chile in July, where they lost in the final on penalties one year after defeat in the 2014 World Cup final, continues to linger.
Argentina suffered a further jolt in their opening qualifier, when they lost at home to Ecuador for the first time in history. Injuries to Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez added to the sense of despondency, which deepened on Friday when Argentina could only draw 1-1 with Brazil in Buenos
Aires after leading 1-0 and dominating the match.
“We couldn’t seal the deal,” Clarin newspaper lamented at the weekend while La Nacion chimed: “The team can’t win.”
“Brazil had God on their side, Argentina outplayed them and dominated most of the game. No luck,” added Ole Sports.
History is still firmly on Argentina’s side however. Only once in 15 attempts since they rejoined qualifying competitions in 1958 have they failed to reach the World Cup, in 1970.
Yet given the current strength in depth of South American football, competition for the four automatic qualifying spots from the region has rarely been as fierce.
Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain wants the Albiceleste to take a positive approach into Tuesday’s test in Barranquilla, where they defeated Colombia 2-1 in qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
“We have to go in with the right attitude,” Higuain said. “Last time it was a starting point for our qualifying campaign.”
Martino, meanwhile, ramped up the pressure on his team by stating that they must take all three points.
“We have to win in Colombia,” Martino said. “We don’t need to look at the table to know that we have an obligation to win. Colombia are going to be a different challenge to Brazil. We have to maintain control of the game but we also know that Colombia are going to attack us more.”
In other games on Tuesday, qualifying competition leaders Ecuador will look to make it four wins out of four when they travel to Venezuela, who have lost all three of their matches so far.
Chile will meanwhile face a repeat of their stormy Copa America clash with Uruguay in Santiago, where Edinson Cavani and Gonzalo Jara will meet for the first time following their clash in July.
Cavani was sent off after lashing out at Jara when the Chilean defender attempted to poke a finger into the Uruguayan striker’s backside. Jara was later banned for three matches over the incident.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez emphatically refused to revisit the issue when asked for his thoughts on Tuesday’s game.
“I will absolutely not speak about it. I will only talk about football; I am preparing a team to play against a great side,” Tabarez said.
In other qualifiers this week, Paraguay face Bolivia at home on Tuesday while Brazil meet Peru on Wednesday.