Argentina look to return to form with win over struggling Peru

Argentina v Peru, World Cup qualifier, October 9, 2009

Argentina 1/16; Draw 8/1; Peru 20/1

Argentina are in a state of frenzy as they face two matches in four days that will decide whether they qualify for the showpiece tournament in South Africa. Those hoping Maradona would show a clear head and guide his team through two tricky encounters in four days will have noted his comments this week that “If I carry on, it will be on my terms,” to eke up the pressure another notch.

As Maradona’s side currently lie in fifth place, even two wins in their final two games against Peru and then Uruguay (away) may not guarantee them a place in South Africa and a tricky play-off against a team from CONCACAF qualifying may still have to be negotiated.

To keep hopes alive, Messi (11/4 to score first), Aguero, Tevez (5/4 for either Aguero or Tevez to score first) and co, must ensure a victory over the bottom side in South American World Cup qualifying on Saturday. They will also be hoping for Ecuador to drop points in their two games against Uruguay (home) and Chile (away).

He may have been arguably the best player ever, but the jury is still out on Maradona’s coaching skills. The 6-1 defeat to Bolivia in April was a major warning sign and despite a nervy 1-0 victory over Colombia, three successive defeats to Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay have left almost the whole country calling for the head of the 1986 World Cup winning captain.

The latest Messiah to be hailed in recent days is Martin Palermo (9/2 to score last). The Boca Juniors striker may be 35, but last week scored a brace against Ghana in a friendly and then followed this up at club level with a stunning long range header that has been a YouTube sensation. Palermo may well provide the focal point up front for the likes of Messi and Tevez to work off but it would still be a major surprise if he starts against Peru.

Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain (4/5 to score) has also finally been called up by Maradona, which yet again proves the incredible attacking quality at Argentina’s disposal which was further highlighted by Diego Milito’s withdrawal from the squad with an injury.

Much will of course depend on Lionel Messi who has oft been criticised for his performances at international level which do not match his sparkling displays for Barcelona. All eyes will also be on Javier Mascherano (7/1 to score), the captain of the side who seems to be struggling for Liverpool at the start of the new campaign, illustrated by his mistake that led to Chelsea’s first goal on Sunday.

Mascherano is well aware that the defence behind him lacks quality and experience, so can Peru cause a major upset? Having picked up just 10 points from 16 games and with nothing to play for it looks unlikely.

Whilst their opponents fret about World Cup qualifying, Peru are perhaps at one of their lowest ebbs ever. They have used an incredible 55 players in World Cup qualifying and one of their most crucial stars is ex-Newcastle schemer Nolberto Solano (7/1 to score), still going strong at 34.

Probably their best European performer, Hamburg striker Paolo Guerrero will miss the game due to injury which will mean Fiorentina left winger Juan Vargas (20/1 to score last) is one of the few in-form players that could trouble the home side.

After the idea of playing in Rosario ended in defeat to Brazil, Los Albicelestes return to River Plate’s Monumental Stadium. The pressure and tension will likely be enormous, but Argentina should see off a poor Peru team to set up another must-win-game with Uruguay.

101gg predicts: Argentina 2 – Peru 0 (5/1)

Argentina 1/16; Draw 8/1; Peru 20/1

Full match odds here.