With six matches of the campaign still to play, Argentina currently sit outside the four automatic qualification spots. A return of five wins, four draws and three losses from their 12 fixtures so far leaves the two-time world champions one point adrift of fourth spot, which is currently occupied by upcoming opponents Chile. There is still plenty of time for Argentina to climb up the standings – and even if they finish fifth, they will contest an inter-confederation play-off with a nation from Oceania, most likely New Zealand – but it is fair to say that the Albiceleste have underwhelmed at times in the process. After back-to-back draws with Venezuela and Peru, followed by consecutive losses to Paraguay and Brazil, manager Edgardo Bauza will hope that November’s 3-0 victory over Colombia proves to be a turning point.
Chile have also struggled on occasion, despite winning the Copa America in 2015 and the Centenario edition of the tournament last year. Juan Antonio Pizzi is the man in charge these days following Jorge Sampaoli’s exit 14 months ago; his first competitive game at the helm ended in a 2-1 defeat by Argentina, but the continental champions are unbeaten in their last three qualifiers, taking seven points from meetings with Peru (a 2-1 win), Colombia (a goalless draw) and Uruguay (a 3-1 victory). Those results lifted La Roja into the top four, although a reverse on Thursday would see them drop down at least one place in the standings.
Argentina’s squad contains the usual embarrassment of riches in attack, with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria all called up by Bauza. Javier Mascherano will be partnered in midfield by either Lucas Biglia or Ever Banega, while Premier League pair Nicolas Otamendi and Ramiro Funes Mori are the favourites to start in the heart of a backline which has often looked shaky and vulnerable in the last couple of years.
Chile, meanwhile, have called up 19 players, including Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, Bayern Munich’s Arturo Vidal and Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo. Pizzi tends to favour a 4-3-3 formation, with Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas set to be joined in the front three by either Nicolas Castillo or Fabian Orellana. In midfield, the absence of Marcelo Diaz could see Carlos Carmona included alongside Vidal and Charles Aranguiz, while Bravo is likely to be a busy man between the sticks.
Neither Argentina nor Chile have been overly convincing since the qualification campaign began, but both still have an excellent chance of making it to Russia next summer. Home advantage and their array of attacking quality could swing this one in the direction of the Argentinians, with an Albiceleste win with both teams to score a tempting bet. More than 3.5 goals is another wager worth exploring, while Di Maria could be an astute selection to find the back of the net anytime.