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Higuain left out again as Sampaoli looks to save Argentina

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Argentina faces a pair of make-or-break qualifiers as CONMEBOL wraps up its World Cup qualifying in the upcoming international break. Once again, Gonzalo Higuain will be watching from his couch.

Head coach Jorge Sampaoli has left the Juventus striker off the roster yet again as he looks to keep Argentina afloat in matches against Peru and Ecuador. Higuain has two goals in three matches for Juventus to start the Serie A season, but he has found it hard to make the national team in recent times, appearing in just three of Argentina’s last eight matches. He has not scored for the country since October of 2016. Despite that, his scoring record for Argentina remains high-quality, owning a lifetime record of 31 goals in 69 appearances.

[ MORE: Brazil releases roster ]

In Higuain’s place, the Argentine boss did bring in 24-year-old Inter striker Mauro Icardi who has five goals in Inter’s first three Serie A games this season.

Sampaoli also kept PSG midfielder Javier Pastore off despite selecting the 28-year-old last international break and using him off the bench in both matches. Pastore has two goals in four matches for PSG so far this season, but no assists.

Argentina sits in fifth position – only a playoff spot – and is just one measly point from falling out of qualification altogether. That team on their heels is Chile, with Peru in a surprising fourth place, above Argentina only on goals scored, with the two countries level on points and goal difference.

The biggest issue for Argentina has been its attack, with just 16 goals in 16 qualifying games. They’ve scored just a single goal in their last three matches, drawing blanks against Uruguay and Bolivia.

FULL ROSTER

GK: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres), Agustin Marchesin (America).

DEF: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Federico Fazio (Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Emanuel Mammana (Zenit), German Pezzella (Fiorentina).

MF: Ever Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Leandro Paredes (Zenit), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica), Emiliano Rigoni (Zenit), Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta).

FWD: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

Peru asks FIFA to move Argentina qualifier from Boca stadium

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LIMA, Peru (AP) Peruvian football officials have asked FIFA to shift the World Cup qualifier against Argentina next month from Boca Junior’s Bombonera stadium.

In a letter to FIFA general secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, the Peruvian Football Association says it “will be difficult to ensure” the safety of “the Peruvian association as well as the thousands of fans who will travel from Peru for the historic match.”

A match in 2015 between Boca Juniors and archrival River Plate was suspended when River players were sprayed by fans with an irritant similar to tear gas.

Peru and Argentina meet on Oct. 5. With two games remaining, they are tied on qualifying points and are trying to land one of four automatic berths from South America to play in next year’s finals in Russia.

CONMEBOL wrap: Peru surges, Chile flops, Argentina messes up

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Matchday 16 of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying did not go according to script, thanks largely to already-eliminated teams.

Bolivia upset Chile in La Paz, while Venezuela went into Argentina and stole a point from Lionel Messi’s desperate and embattled Albiceleste.

[ USMNT: RecapPlayer ratings | 3 things ]

Peru moved into the Top Four, ahead of Argentina on tiebreakers, while Uruguay was the lone top team to seize its opportunity on the night.

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela

Jhon Murillo gave the visitors a shock 51st minute lead, only to hand it back via an own goal three minutes later. Argentina completed 398 more passes than Venezuela, and converted 92 percent of its 569 passes. It’s dominance extended to shots — 17-5 — but not to goals, despite four shots from Mauro Icardi and three each for Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala.

Bolivia 1-0 Chile

Juan Arce’s 58th minute penalty kick was part of a bizarre night that saw under fire Chile manage just three shot attempts to the hosts’ 11. The Chileans had most of the ball but couldn’t get the job done and now sit outside the top five with a visit from Ecuador and trip to Brazil remaining on the docket.

Ecuador 1-2 Peru

The goals came in a flurry, as Edison Flores and Paolo Hurtado finished chances in the 72nd and 74th minutes to make it 2-0 before Enner Valencia scored shortly after Peru went down to 10 men. Ecuador drops four points back of the Top Four with a trip to Chile before a visit from Argentina. Ouch.

Paraguay 1-2 Uruguay

A Federico Valverde goal was joined by a Paraguay own goal as the visitors took a 2-0 lead late. Angel Romero scored in the 88th minute, but Paraguay couldn’t level the score and sits three points back of the Top Four. Uruguay’s 27 points are now second, but just three points ahead of fourth and fifth.

Colombia 1-1 Brazil

Already-qualified Brazil got a Willian goal in first half stoppage, but conceded a Radamel Falcao goal after the break to split the spoils. Los Cafeteros sit third with 26 points.

Report: Messi could opt to become free agent next summer

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In the world of soccer, rumors surface on a regular basis, especially when it comes to the game’s biggest stars.

[ MORE: Premier League releases 25-man rosters for 17/18 season ]

One player that has been at the center of transfer gossip recently is Lionel Messi of Barcelona, however, the legitimacy of theses rumors appears to be pointing towards the 30-year-old becoming a free agent in the summer of 2018.

Spanish radio station Onda Cero is reporting that Messi could opt against signing a new deal with Barca next summer, which would allow him to pursue other options in Europe or elsewhere.

Again, this is all speculative, but Messi has had a deal on the table from Barca for some time now and the Argentina international doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to put pen to paper.

Manchester City is a club that continues to be at the center of the Messi sweepstakes talks, and rightfully so considering the player’s relationship with City manager Pep Guardiola, formerly the head coach at Barcelona.

Messi has been involved at Barcelona for nearly two decades, arriving in Spain back in 2001 when the attacker joined the club’s youth academy. Since, Messi has tallied 544 goals in all competitions for the Blaugrana, which is the most all-time at the club.

CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying preview

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Have to hand it to CONMEBOL, which makes sure their World Cup qualifying day always has a match moving for seven and a half hours.

It’s Matchday 15 for South America, the first of four days left for five perennial World Cup qualifiers to find their way to one of three automatic spots on the table. Outside of Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador, this week marks the last chances for Peru and Paraguay to edge their way into the conversation.

Let’s take a look at the table before we go any further.

[ MORE: Four keys for the USMNT ]

Brazil — 33 pts (qualified)
Colombia — 24 pts
Uruguay — 23 pts
Chile — 23 pts
Argentina — 22 pts
Ecuador — 20 pts
Peru — 18 pts
Paraguay — 18 pts
Bolivia — 10 pts (eliminated)
Venezuela — 6 pts (eliminated)

The Top Four teams go to Russia automatically, with the fifth place team facing either the Solomon Islands or, more likely, New Zealand for a place in the World Cup.

Brazil is already in, but won’t be resting on its laurels given the competition for places in the roster. Players like David Luiz, Alex Sandro, and Douglas Costa aren’t even in the squad for Thursday’s match with sixth-place Ecuador in Porto Alegre.

Ecuador could find itself as low as eight with a loss to Brazil, should Peru beat already-eliminated Bolivia in Lima (likely) and Paraguay snare three points in Chile (far from it).

The Chileans will be feeling the heat should they not get a win over Paraguay. A trip to Bolivia is next, but home to Ecuador and away to Brazil is a tough way to finish qualifying.

Uruguay is the only team to face both Bolivia and Venezuela, which gives it a distinct advantage. If it can manage a win over Argentina on Thursday, it would but them on a clean path to Russia.

The Argentine side would avoid a brutal final day in Ecuador if it could pick up a win in Montevideo. With Venezuela and Peru coming to Argentina next, La Albiceleste would have a solid chance to clinch a spot in Russia before Matchday 18.

CONMEBOL qualifying Thursday schedule
Venezuela vs. Colombia, 5 p.m. ET
Chile vs. Paraguay, 6:30 p.m. ET
Uruguay vs. Argentina, 7 p.m. ET
Brazil vs. Ecuador, 8:45 p.m. ET
Peru vs. Bolivia, 10:15 p.m. ET

Remaining opponents
Brazil – Ecuador (H), Colombia (A), Bolivia (A), Chile (H)
Colombia – Venezuela (A), Brazil (H), Paraguay (H), Peru (A)
Uruguay – Argentina (H), Paraguay (A), Venezuela (A), Bolivia (H)
Chile – Paraguay (H), Bolivia (A), Ecuador (H), Brazil (A)
Argentina – Uruguay (A), Venezuela (H), Peru (H), Ecuador (A)
Ecuador – Brazil (A), Peru (H), Chile (A), Argentina (H)
Peru – Bolivia (H), Ecuador (A), Argentina (A), Colombia (H)
Paraguay – Chile (A), Uruguay (H), Colombia (A), Venezuela (H)
Bolivia – Peru (A), Chile (H), Brazil (H), Uruguay (A)
Venezuela – Colombia (H), Argentina (A), Uruguay (H), Paraguay (A)