Fans of soccer behemoth Lionel Messi are worried that the superstar and his team may miss the 2018 World Cup in Russia following a shocking 1-1 draw with Venezuela on Tuesday. The team’s chances to recover in time to qualify for the 2018 contest are complicated by the fact that Messi, one of the most well-known and highly paid athletes in the world, was recently forced to serve a four-game suspension for verbal abuse against a referee.
FIFA recently ruled that the 29-year-old Messi would be prohibited from playing at all in four games after he ignited a heated dispute with an assistant referee, and ordered him to pay a 10,000 CHF fine. Without its star player on the field to lead the team, Argentina lost 2-0 against Bolivia during a World Cup Qualifier on March 28, leading some to worry the team may be irreparably disadvantaged to qualify in time.
Luckily for Argentina, it’s handicap in the form of losing Messi didn’t last long; after appealing his four-game suspension, the superstar’s ban was lifted, according to ESPN, though not in time to stave off the disastrous defeat against Bolivia.
Following the disappointing results against Venezuela, as reported by Bleacher Report, the fear that Argentina may be left out of the international spectacle has grown significantly. With only two games left to qualify, Argentina remains in fifth place. If the team fails to qualify in time, 2018’s World Cup would be the first without Argentina since 1970.
While Messi was out serving his suspension, Argentina lost serious ground to some of its competitors: The team suffered two home losses to Ecuador and Paraguay, and its window for redemption is rapidly closing.
Only the top four teams in South America will qualify to play in 2018’s Russian contest, with Brazil having already qualified on March 28. Uruguay is currently clinging to its position in second, followed by Colombia and Peru, who are also vying for their chance to play in Russia.
If Argentina fails to qualify, the world cup will be absent of not only Messi but his teammates Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria as well. The trio have proven to be a formidable force on the pitch, but some rumors are still swearing about the team’s so-called “Messi dependency,” which could be an indicator of internal strife.
“It’s difficult to remove this ‘Messi-dependency’ from a team when Leo is there,” Argentina soccer manager Jorge Sampaoli said, according to the Independent. “When you know you have the best player you will always look toward him.”
The team is now in a race against time to qualify, with the entire world of soccer fandom holdings its breath in anticipation.
[Featured Image by Victor R. Caivano/AP Images]