Why Argentina and Brazil are both at risk of missing out on Russia 2018

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Argentina and Brazil are historically the two greatest teams in international football and at the top of the pile in terms of honors reaped and consistency with which they have done so.

But both teams have played poorly since the last World Cup – will they be able to qualify for Russia 2018? Despite last summer’s World Cup still being fresh in the memory of most, the campaign to make it to the next major global tournament, to be hosted in Russia in 2018, is already underway.

Although Euro 2016 is the international focus in Europe, South America’s qualifying campaign has already started in earnest, with two games for each team taking place and two more scheduled before the end of the year.The battle to qualify for Russia will hold specific significance for the two major South American footballing nations that suffered heartache in the last World Cup.

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For Brazil, its hosts in 2014, unrelentingly high hopes were brought firmly back to earth after an unprecedented 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany, with the famous side in yellow suffering both on and off the pitch ever since the humbling result. Joachim Low’s side went on to win the final, disposing of fellow South Americans Argentina at the final hurdle, with Mario Gotze’s late goal breaking Albiceleste hearts and prolonging their wait for success at a major tournament.

While the more optimistic among the two countries’ supporters will treat the next World Cup in 2018 as an opportunity to make amends, the task of simply making it to Russia in the first place appears much more difficult now than at any time in the recent memory. In qualifying pool of ten teams, four nations will automatically book their place at the competition, while the fifth-placed team will face an intercontinental playoff against a fringe nation that should on paper be relatively straightforward.

Despite the five available spots, it is not going to be a mere matter of turning up for Brazil or Argentina this time round, with the caliber and quality of the other South American nations seemingly closing the gap between the continent’s big two and everyone else. After the first two rounds of qualifying fixtures, both historic nations are outside the top four after slow starts to the campaign.

Brazil's slow recovery

Looking at Brazil, an over-reliance on Neymar that was painstakingly obvious at last summer’s World Cup is no closer to being resolved, with the supporting cast doing little to suggest the Selecao can get back to previous heights.

The proud nation is still suffering from the acrimonious nature of their elimination on home soil last year and although there has been a change in personnel and a new head coach appointed, the same substandard displays on the pitch continue.

© Winslow Townson

At the Copa America in the summer, Brazil seemed to abandon their traditional attacking stance and played with conservatism, nerves and a lack of composure not befitting the Selecao teams that had come before them.

As with the loss to Germany, Neymar was unavailable against Paraguay at the quarter-final stage of the competition in Chile, with Brazil floundering and eliminated on penalties.

The samba nation has experimented with new players over the last year, but started their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a sterile performance and a 2-0 defeat to Chile.

Although they recorded a win over the modest Venezuelans last time out, Brazil were facing arguably the weakest nation in the ten team pool.

Are Argentina over-reliant on Messi?

With a clash against Argentina in Buenos Aires next up, Brazilian football is going through something of an identity crisis that threatens to see them miss out on World Cup qualification for the first-ever time.

Argentina’s players meanwhile have become the nearly-men of the global game, losing out in the final of last summer’s World Cup and in the 2004, 2007 and 2015 Copa America.

Given the sublime attacking weaponry at coach Gerardo Martino’s disposal, including the world’s best player of a generation Lionel Messi, nothing other than silverware is deemed acceptable by their passionate support.

© Carlos Garcia Rawlins

However, with the Barcelona star injured and unavailable, the Albiceleste have made a dreadful start to the qualifying campaign and have ground to make up as a result.

Beaten 2-0 on home soil by Ecuador in their opener, a 0-0 draw against Paraguay last time out failed to instill the required confidence to suggest Argentina were ready to cruise through qualifying.

With a surfeit of talent in recent years, the South American nation have consistently struggled to find a system that accommodates all the leading lights, but, more importantly, one that delivers glory.

Although Argentina and Brazil could afford a slip-up or two in the past and still qualify, the other football-mad nations have improved to an extent that they are able to go toe-to-toe with their illustrious neighbors.

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Chile’s first-ever Copa America success this summer has been backed by consecutive qualifying campaign victories, while the continually improving Ecuador and Uruguay have both won their opening two games – neither conceding in the process.

With Paraguay proving they can match the continent’s best over the last year, Colombia possessing world-class players in their ranks and Peru no pushovers, the South American qualifying campaign is set to be eagerly contested.

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