In just 11 days, on August 31, the Argentina national team will do battle with Uruguay in the first of a two-match set of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Argentina is currently in the playoff zone in the CONMEBOL qualifying table, so the team must come away with at least one point from this match. This contest will also mark the first competitive match for new Argentina manager Jorge SAMPAOLI.
While the jury is still out on how La Albiceleste’s starting XI will look for the match, we know for sure that Uruguay will be without their star striker, Luis Suárez. Suárez suffered a knee ligaments injury during the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup and will be out for a little over a month. Uruguay’s soccer federation has already confirmed he won’t be available for either of Uruguay’s next two qualifying matches.
The absence of Suárez is a massive blow to a Uruguay team that relies heavily on the offensive work of their top two strikers, Suárez and Edinson Cavani. Internal, direct replacements for Suarez could come in the form of Diego Rolan or Abel Hernandez, but it’s possible Uruguay changes their formation entirely, opting instead to play with Cavani alone at the top and adding a midfielder to the fold. Whatever Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez does, his starting lineup will be significantly weakened. Advantage, Argentina.
Suarez’ absence isn’t the only thing that should have Argentina fans feeling optimistic. Uruguay’s recent form, against Argentina and against everyone else, is a serious cause for concern for La Celeste. Uruguay has lost its last five overall matches by a combined score of 15-4. Two of those matches were friendlies against Ireland and Italy, while the other losses were World Cup qualifiers against Chile, Brazil and Peru. They haven’t won a match of any kind since November 10 of last year.
In addition, Uruguay has lost its last two matches to Argentina, both 1-0 defeats. The most recent match featured a decisive Sergio AGÜERO headed goal and an Argentina team playing one-man down for half the match after Paulo DYBALA was bafflingly yellow carded for a second time. The last time Uruguay beat a fully reinforced Argentina team that wasn’t resting players, and not in penalties, was back in October of 2005, eight encounters ago.
With more time to digest SAMPAOLI’s teachings and tactics, Argentina should play even better than they did when they beat Brazil in early June. If the players adapt to an effective system as they seem to be able to, La Albiceleste will walk away from Estadio Centenario with three points.