Peru’s World Cup Dream Is Lionel Messi And Argentina’s Nightmare
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Want the definition of a miracle? Take Peru, a country that hasn't qualified for a World Cup since 1982 and is now closer than ever. Want the definition of a catastrophe? Take Argentina, who in recent years has lost a total of three finals and could get left out of next summer's World Cup in Russia entirely.
Plus, this is likely the last real chance Lionel Messi (who'll turn 31 next June) will get to lead his country to a much-coveted third World Cup title, one that would silence those who claim Messi is only great when playing for Barcelona.
Here’s how things stand: after defeating Ecuador and Bolivia, Peru has 24 points and currently sits fourth in the table, qualifying directly to the World Cup should they hold on to that position.
On the other end, Argentina also has 24 points, but they're in fifth because Peru has scored more goals — even the nations' goal differential is squared at +1 each. If things were to stay this way, Argentina would fail to attain direct qualification and could only aspire to make it to Russia via the inter-confederation playoffs against New Zealand.
With only two games to play, the table is tight and volatile. While calculations could last for hours and have endless variables, what’s evident is that the three points Argentina and Peru will be disputing in Buenos Aires next month will massively influence their respective aspirations to contend for the world championship.
Apart from facing each other, Argentina and Peru will move on to face Ecuador and Colombia respectively in the final matchday. These fixtures are slightly more friendly to Argentina, but Peru's dream is alive and kicking. The last couple Peruvian results have triggered a widespread sense of optimism in the country, to the point that a video showing people celebrating a Peru goal at a funeral has recently gone viral.
It would no doubt be exciting and rewarding to see the Peruvian national team in Russia, but that could come at the high cost of leaving Argentina and Messi out.
Something worth considering at this point is Messi’s attitude toward adversity. Just last year he decided to retire from the national team after losing the Copa America Centenario final to Chile. By the way, Peru qualifying could also spell disaster for Chile's World Cup ambitions.
But will Messi retire again should Argentina fail to make it to the World Cup? Will Peru’s dream and high morale be enough to outplay Messi and Argentina, leading La Albiceleste to one of their worst ever results? Or will the Argentines prevail, as they normally do, and get one more shot at redemption and glory?
One thing is certain: we are off to a nerve-racking match that will paralyze two entire South American nations. If the Peruvian dream is fulfilled, it will prove catastrophic not only for Messi and Argentina, but to any soccer fan that enjoys watching "La Pulga" play.