BARRANQUILLA, Colombia (Reuters) – Troubled Argentina, without talisman Lionel Messi, will look for a victory against Colombia on Tuesday like the one four years ago that launched them on the road to the 2014 World Cup final.
Argentina return to the hot and humid Caribbean port city of Barranquilla desperate for a win after their worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign with two points from three games.
They stand second-bottom of the 10-team South American group, seven points behind leaders Ecuador who have nine.
Copa America holders Chile are two points off the pace in second ahead of their highly-charged visit to Uruguay, who are a further point back in third.
In November 2011, former coach Alejandro Sabella’s side arrived at the Metropolitano stadium with four points from three matches fresh from a humiliating 1-0 defeat in Venezuela.
Down 1-0 at halftime, and with defender Nicolas Burdisso sent off, Sabella threw caution to the wind, took off a midfielder and sent on Sergio Aguero to partner Messi and Gonzalo Higuain up front. The trio inspired a 2-1 victory.
“This team was born in Barranquilla,” midfield general Javier Mascherano, who again stands in for Messi as captain, said before they met Germany in the final in Rio de Janeiro.
“Now, again, we’re obliged to win in Barranquilla,” he said on Friday after Argentina’s 1-1 draw at home to Brazil gave Gerardo Martino’s side their second point.
The difference this time is that neither Messi nor Aguero, the scorers in Barranquilla in 2011, are there to help Higuain and Colombia are a better side, having enjoyed their own renaissance after that match.
Colombia sacked coach Leonel Alvarez and replaced him with Jose Pekerman, Argentina’s 2006 World Cup coach, and qualified for their first finals in 16 years before reaching the last eight in Brazil.
Radamel Falcao was Colombia’s danger man then, before a knee ligament injury two years later put him out of the World Cup.
Now their main threat comes from forward James Rodriguez, who equalised in the 1-1 draw away to Chile on Thursday.
“Everyone wants to play against Argentina, it’s match that motivates,” he said. “Messi isn’t here and neither is Aguero, but they have a very good squad. The standard of our opponents doesn’t change, we have to go out to win.”
Argentina also have to contend with the heat, which can top 30 degrees Celsius and which Colombia try to benefit from by staging the match in mid-afternoon (1500 GMT).
Unbeaten Chile face Uruguay in Montevideo for the first time since June’s Copa America quarter-final in Santiago when Edinson Cavani was sent off for striking at Gonzalo Jara after the Chile defender stuck his finger up the forward’s backside.
Uruguay captain Diego Godin, playing down any suggestion of targeting Jara, said: “We haven’t talked about the issue or any specific Chile player… All we have talked about as a group and with the master (coach Oscar Tabarez) is how to beat Chile.”
Uruguay welcomed striker Cavani back from suspension for their visit to Ecuador on Thursday and although he scored they lost 2-1 as the Ecuadoreans continued to surprise everyone with their perfect, best-ever start to the qualifiers.
Ecuador visit bottom team Venezuela, fourth-placed Brazil are at home to Peru and Paraguay host Bolivia in the rest of Tuesday’s qualifying programme.
(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ken Ferris)