Yup, you have read right. With four games left in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Argentina finds itself in fifth place, with only four automatic qualifying spots.
Could a World Cup actually be contested without Argentina for the first time since 1970?
As it stands now, Brazil has one spot locked up with 33 points. Colombia has 24 points, and Uruguay and Chile each have 23 to hold the top four spots. Argentina has 22. Moreover, Ecuador at 20 and Peru and Paraguay at 18 each are well within striking distance.
Next up for Argentina is a very difficult match at Uruguay in August. Then in September and October, the team will be favored at home against Venezuela and Peru. Should those games go as expected, Argentina would face a potentially decisive final match at Ecuador on Oct. 10.
Still, the team could wind up in fifth place. That would not mean elimination. It would go to a playoff against the winner of Oceania qualifying, almost certainly New Zealand. Argentina would be heavily favored: During 2014 qualifying, New Zealand lost, 9-3 on aggregate, to Mexico. So really, the top five might be good enough for Argentina.
But sixth or lower would mean the end of the line. A loss in the Peru game could be fatal.
You would still have to say Argentina is likely to make the Cup. Depending on the bookmaker, the team is still the fifth favorite or so to win it, behind only Germany, Brazil, France and Spain.
Still, it is more than possible. That Argentina’s participation is in doubt at all is a shock, and a worrying sign for the many Albiceleste fans around the world.