After Edgardo Bauza’s sacking, Argentina face tough World Cup test

Argentina sacked manager Edgardo Bauza on Monday after just eight games and with the national team outside of CONMEBOL’s automatic 2018 World Cup qualification spots.

Currently fifth in the South American table through 14 rounds and with four games remaining, FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) still gives Argentina, one point behind both Uruguay and Chile, an 84 percent chance to qualify for the competition.

The team that finishes in fifth place in South America will advance to a two-legged playoff against the winner of the Oceania region.

Four countries — Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy — have qualified for each of the past 11 World Cups, with La Albiceleste last missing the competition in 1970.

Bauza was hired by the Argentine Soccer Federation (AFA) in August following the unexpected resignation of Gerardo Martino. Argentina were third in the CONMEBOL standings at that time, two points from the top, having won three times and drawn twice in six games.

The next manager will be Argentina’s seventh since 2006 — more than they had in the previous 32 years. Between 1974 and 2006, Argentina had six coaches, with five of them completing at least a four-year cycle.

Edgardo Bauza’s replacement will be Argentina’s seventh coach since Jose Pekerman resigned following the 2006 World Cup.

That person will also have to deal with the absence of Lionel Messi, the team’s all-time leading scorer, who is serving an international four-game ban for verbally abusing a referee in a 1-0 home victory against Chile on March 23.

Messi served the first game of his suspension on March 28 in a 2-0 loss away against Bolivia, who have already been eliminated from World Cup qualifying. After travelling to Uruguay for their next qualifier on Aug. 31, Argentina will host two teams currently in the bottom half of the South American table — Venezuela on Sept. 5 and Peru on Oct. 5.

Argentina have struggled in World Cup qualifying without Lionel Messi.

Argentina have not won a major international title since 1993, when they defeated Mexico in the Copa America final. They have lost seven finals since then, including to Chile in the Copa America in each of the last two years and against Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.

Among the candidates to replace Bauza are Sevilla’s Jorge Sampaoli and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, with AFA delegates reportedly travelling to Spain this week to speak to both coaches. Sampaoli, in his first season with Sevilla, coached Chile from 2012 through 2016 and led them to the Copa America title in 2015.

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