Argentina - Colombia Preview: Conmebol front-runners battle for World Cup place


One definite absence for Argentina is Fernando Gago, who will be unable to resume his partnership with Javier Mascherano in the middle. The Velez Sarsfield man has suffered a torrid 2013 with injuries, and will be replaced by Lucas Biglia in an otherwise familiar-looking Albiceleste line-up.

Lionel Messi's presence, meanwhile, is still in doubt. The Barcelona star was included in the squad and reports from training suggest that he will be fit to take the captain's armband against Colombia. With questions remaining over whether he is ready to play, however, coach Alejandro Sabella has refused to confirm his place in the first XI - Erik Lamela or Ezequiel Lavezzi are prime candidates to step in should he be unavailable.

Jose Pekerman is expected to make several changes from the team that was defeated last time round by Venezuela. In an attacking line-up, Cruz Azul striker Teo Gutierrez will enter for Macnelly Torres to partner Radamel Falcao up front, while Carlos Sanchez could also enter for Edwin Valencia in the middle.

  DID YOU KNOW?

  • Argentina have lost just one match in the World Cup qualifying campaign: a 1-0 defeat away to Venezuela.

  • Since then the Albiceleste have won six of their nine matches on their way to the Conmebol summit, drawing twice against Bolivia and away to Peru.

  • Gonzalo Higuain (pictured, right) is the tournament's top scorer, having netted nine times so far. Lionel Messi and Uruguay frontman Luis Suarez follow the Madrid sharpshooter, with eight each.

  • Colombia currently occupy third place in the World Cup standings, and hope to make their first finals since 1998.

  • Argentina's Monumental stadium will be familiar territory for Radamel Falcao and Mario Yepes, both of whom represented River Plate.

  • James Rodriguez and Teo Gutierrez are the other Colombia starters with experience of the Argentine league, with past spells in Banfield and Racing Club respectively.
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