Peru stalemate leaves Argentine teetering on the brink

Di Maria Ever Banega and Nicolas Otamendi make their way to the training ground

Argentina's hopes of qualifying automatically for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russian Federation took a massive hit on Thursday when they were held to a goalless draw by Peru in front of a capacity stadium in Buenos Aires.

Only the top four advance automatically in South American qualifying. The fifth-placed finisher will go into an inter-confederation play-off against New Zealand.

It's been that type of World Cup qualifying for Lionel Messi and Argentina.

This seems unreal to type, but Argentina may not make it to next year's World Cup in Russian Federation. Runners up at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on a late goal in extra time against Germany.

In a decade of winning trophies for his Barcelona club, the best player of his generation has not delivered a single major trophy for Argentina.

Argentina had the lion's share of possession and chances although good ones were scarce.

Despite an impressive roster that includes Messi, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi, goals have been the biggest problem for Argentina with their 16 strikes in 17 games the second worst record in the entire division. Argentina should have gone ahead in first half stoppage time when Messi lifted a looping cross into the box but striker Dario Benedetto headed the ball over the bar.

Thursday's draw with Peru will give Argentina's fans little cause for optimism as the familiar failings in front of goal once again dogged Jorge Sampaoli's side.

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With each nation now having just one fixture remaining apiece, two points currently separate third and seventh.

Brazil has qualified already and played on Thursday to a 0-0 draw versus Bolivia.

With Colombia and Peru, occupying fourth and fifth place respectively, due to face off on the same day, Sampaoli is optimistic of La Albiceleste's prospects.

Ecuador have already been eliminated and lost their last five matches in a row. But Uruguay are expected to get through the final round on Tuesday.

With Brazil already qualified at the top of the group and Uruguay all but home with a huge goal difference advantage, there are now five teams fighting for the two remaining automatic qualifying spots and playoff spot.

That will leave two teams trying to reach the playoff, which looks like Argentina's only route.

A win in Quito, which lies at almost 2,900 metres above sea level, may throw Argentina a lifeline.

Meanwhile in San Cristóbal, Venezuela held second-placed Uruguay goalless.

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