Who: Argentina vs. Venezuela
When: Friday March 22, 8:00 p.m. ET
What: World Cup CONMEBOL Qualifying
Lionel Messi and Argentina will play host to a struggling Venezuelan side Friday night. With the World Cup only one year away, every game will be intense and this match will prove no different.
Argentina currently leads the CONMEBOL standings with 20 points and is set to book their place in Brazil in the next few months.
Venezuela, however, is sitting on just 12 points and is needing some big wins in the coming months. La Vinotinto joins two other nations level for the last position, guaranteeing a berth in the World Cup.
Both teams are in need of a strong showing Friday with a lot on the line.
If Argentina is able to pull off a victory they will move one step closer to booking their place in Brazil. But the match will be seen as a must win for Venezuela as the three points could possibly move them beyond the other nations fighting for the fourth qualification spot.
Argentina will be entering the game in extraordinary form. La Albiceleste have not lost a qualifying match since October 2011 while also losing just one of their last seven friendly matches.
For their great run of form, Argentina has recently risen to third in the FIFA rankings. The South American giants sit just behind Germany and Spain and are looking more likely to seriously challenge for the World Cup trophy.
Venezuela on the other hand have been struggling as of late.
La Vinotinto have only been able to win three of their last 13 matches across all competitions. The World Cup qualifying has been the biggest disappointment thus far for Venezuela. The South American side has only taken all three points from just one of their last five matches.
Based on the current form of both teams, fans are definitely expecting a huge win for Argentina.
Players to Watch
Argentina will boast the largest amount of stars in the encounter. Aside from Messi, Argentina will field a very strong attack consisting of Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Messi and Higuain are leading the team in scoring with both stars having netted seven times. The duo is level with Luis Suarez for most goals scored in the qualifying competition.
However, the home side will be without star striker Sergio Aguero.
The Manchester City star is currently recovering from injury in Argentina and is not likely to feature at all over the international break (via the Daily Mail). The loss will hurt Argentina, but coach Alejandro Sabella will have a plethora of options to replace Aguero in attack.
Above everyone else, Messi will clearly be the most entertaining to watch, but that does not mean that Venezuela does not have their own competitors.
Salomon Rondon is currently the leading goal scorer for Venezuela, having scored three times, but possibly the most exciting player for the team has been Juan Arango.
Though Arango has only been able to score twice thus far, the captain continues to be the most important performer for La Vinotinto.
With such a threatening attack to lead the charge, Argentina is expected to pull off a strong win against Venezuela. Messi will again prove vital in attack, and not many believe that the Venezuelan defense will be strong enough to hold the onslaught.
Argentina has suffered with a weak defense over the last few years which could allow Venezuela to stay in the game.
If Argentina is able to shore up their backline, the hosts will undoubtedly take all three points.
Venezuela will most likely try to take advantage of the disconnection between Argentina’s backline and attack. Buildup play has been seemingly nonexistent for Argentina over the last few years and fans should expect Venezuela to employ a game plan built around that factor.
Based on current form and the giant difference in the squads, Argentina should walk away easy winners. Messi will likely score on the night, but do not be surprised if Venezuela is able to pull back a consolation goal.
Final prediction: Argentina 3-1 Venezuela
Which team will come away winners in the qualifying match? Who will be the biggest performers on the night? Will a victory seal Argentina’s spot in Brazil? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.
Tre’ Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on the World Cup.