It’s crunch time for the United States and Argentina as World Cup qualifying winds down Tuesday night.
The U.S. team can secure a spot in an eighth consecutive World Cup with a victory at the soggy Ato Bolton Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago (8 p.m., BeINSport). The Americans enter the game sitting comfortably in third place with 12 points, two ahead of fourth-place Panama and fifth-place Honduras. They also lead the other two teams on goal differential, so a tie might be enough. A win gets them in for sure.
A loss and things get very complicated for Coach Bruce Arena and his players.
The game is also significant because with one goal, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey becomes the leading scorer in U.S. history, passing Landon Donovan.
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But the match getting the most global attention is Argentina at Ecuador because superstar Lionel Messi and his teammates are in serious danger of being (gulp!) excluded from the 2018 World Cup in Russia after digging themselves what may be an insurmountable hole.
The Argentines went into Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. match in sixth place among the 10 South American teams, two spots out of the automatic qualifying berth and one spot shy of a playoff spot.
To make matters worse, the game is being played at high altitude in Quito, where the lack of oxygen makes breathing a challenge. Argentina has lost two of its past three matches there, and the conditions are unfavorable for any visitor.
A victory guarantees the Argentines at least a playoff spot against a team from Oceania. A loss means the 2018 World Cup will go on without Argentina. A tie would leave the Albiceleste rooting for other teams’ help.
Despite having Messi on the roster, Argentina has struggled to score, with just 16 goals in the past 17 games. The team is on its third coach this qualifying cycle – Jorge Sampaoli – and coming off three consecutive ties against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru.
The good news for Argentine fans is that Ecuador is even worse off, with five losses in a row.
Heading into Tuesday’s matches, the South American CONMEBOL standings looked like this: Brazil (38 points), Uruguay (28), Chile (26), Colombia (26), Peru (25), Argentina (25), Paraguay (24), Ecuador (20), Bolivia (14), Venezuela (9).
Among the teams which have already booked tickets to Russia: Germany (defending champion), Russia (host), Brazil, Belgium, England, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Spain.
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta), Tim Howard (Colorado), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)
Defenders (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston), Matt Besler (Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, England), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Michael Orozco (Tijuana, Mexico), Tim Ream (Fulham, England), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna, Mexico), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle, England), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Midfielders (9): Kellyn Acosta (Dallas), Juan Agudelo (New England), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Benny Feilhaber (Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto), Clint Dempsey (Seattle), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose), Bobby Wood (Hamburg, Germany)
Trinidad & Tobago
Goalkeepers (3): Adrian Foncette (Police, T&T), Greg Ranjitsingh (Louisville), Glenroy Samuel (Morvant Caledonia United, T&T)
Defenders (9): Daneil Cyrus (Juticalpa, HON), Kevan George (Jacksonville), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force, T&T), Mekeil Williams (Colorado), Alvin Jones (W Connection, T&T), Tristan Hodge (W Connection, T&T), Kareem Moses (North Carolina), Kevon Villaroel (North East Stars, T&T), Josiah Trimmingham (San Juan Jabloteh, T&T)
Midfielders (9): Khaleem Hyland (Al-Faisaly, KSA), Joevin Jones (Seattle), Kevin Molino (Minnesota), Leston Paul (Pasaquina, SLV), Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh, T&T), Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar, NED), Jared London (Club Sando, T&T), Neil Benjamin (W Connection, T&T), Kathon St. Hillaire (St. Ann’s Rangers, T&T)
Forwards (3): Shahdon Winchester (Murciealagos, MEX), Trevin Caesar (Sacramento), Akeem Roach (Vida, HON)