Oct 12, 2016

    Argentina face home fight sans Messi, key defenders

    AN INJURY to talisman Lionel Messi and suspensions of his defenders have created some serious thinking about Argentina's line-up for coach Edgardo Bauza ahead of a World Cup qualifier (7.30am today, Singapore time) at home to Paraguay in Cordoba.

    Messi, who missed the 2-2 draws against Venezuela and Peru with a groin injury that had his side drop from top of the South American qualifying group to fifth, looks set to return for his club Barcelona at the weekend.

    Bauza is holding his breath the five-time Ballon d'Or winner stays healthy in the next month before they have to travel to Belo Horizonte to face Brazil on Nov 10.

    Nicolas Gaitan will stand in for Messi on the right side of the attack against Paraguay in place of Paulo Dybala, who started there in last week's 2-2 draw with Peru in Lima, as the coach seeks a better balance in his team.

    "Gaitan covers more ground," Bauza said at a news conference in Cordoba on Monday.

    "And we believe (Ever) Banega can accompany (Javier) Mascherano and carry the team forward better," Bauza added of his decision to bring Inter Milan's Banega into the midfield as playmaker, dropping the more defensive Matias Kranevitter.

    However, Bauza has more concerns over his defenders, with Manchester City duo Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta and Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori all suspended, leaving only Manchester United's Marcos Rojo in a revamped back line.

    Martin Demichelis will play in central defence.

    Sergio Aguero has recovered from a calf niggle that forced his early second-half substitution in Lima and will start again behind Gonzalo Higuain in attack.

    Bauza's side had led the South American group following their 1-0 win over Uruguay on Sept 1 until Messi's injury.

    They are now fifth, with the top four qualifying for Russia while the fifth-placed team face an intercontinental play-off.