World Cup Qualifiers Round-up: Argentina in increasingly precarious state

Meanwhile USA are still struggling in CONCACAF as we look at events outside Europe

Argentina, Bolivia, World Cup, qualifying

Argentina's Matias Caruzzo, left, Ever Vanegas, center, and Mateo Musacchio leave the field at the end of a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match against Bolivia, at the Hernando Siles stadium in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Bolivia won 2-0. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Imagine a World Cup without Argentina?

We're not quite at that precipice yet but there is a real danger that one of the great international football powers will be watching Russia 2018 from home.

Hours before Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier against Bolivia, captain and talisman Lionel Messi was hit with a four match ban - with Bolivia's president Evo Morales even publicly opposed.

Without Messi and in the altitude of the Bolivian capital La Paz, Argentina contrived to lose 2-0 which leaves them fifth in the 10-team South American qualifying group, outside the automatic Top 4 places and not guaranteed the playoff spot they currently occupy.

They also have to make do without Messi for three of the remaining four qualifiers against Uruguay away and then Venezuela and Peru at home.

He should be available again when the Albiceleste head to Ecuador for their final match.

But their record without Messi is in stark contrast to when he is absent. Without Messi in the qualifiers, Argentina have played eight times and won just once. 

It's five wins in six when he is involved and given that he will miss three quarters of the rest of the campaign, then you would have to worry about them.

No such issues for a revitalised Brazil under manager Tite who has secured the Selecao's place in Russia with four games to spare. Their 3-0 win over Paraguay last night puts them on 33 points and means that they can no longer drop out of the automatic qualifying places.

The battle for the automatic qualifying places and playoff spot are tight. Colombia sit second on 24 points ahead of Uruguay and Chile who are both on 23 and occupy the last automatic places.

Argentina are a point behind in the playoff place and just two points in arrears are Ecuador. Peru and Paraguay on 18 points apiece have an outside chance of qualifying but realistically it's looking like a battle of five teams for the three remaining automatic spots and the playoff reprieve. Five does not go into four and Argentina could be the side to be left by the wayside.

Mexico's Javier Hernandez controls the ball during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Trinidad and Tobago, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuesday, March 28, 2017.(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

There was no World Cup qualification action in Africa in this international window, but elsewhere some teams are getting closer to sealing their places. 

Mexico lead the six-team table in North and Central America on 10 points after winning 1-0 in Trinidad and Tobago.

Three points behind the Mexicans are 2014 World Cup quarter finalists Costa Rica who are themselves two points clear of Panama.

USA however, who bounced back with a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras last week, had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Panama which leaves them a point behind the Panamanians in the playoff spot.

Honduras are level with USA and Trinidad and Tobago prop up the group just one point below that duo.

Asia is also taking shape as the halfway point of the group stage is passed. Iran look on course to qualify from AFC Group A. They have picked up 17 points from seven games and have a four point cushion on giants South Korea who have been inconsistent but still occupy second place in that group and with that, the final automatic spot.

Uzbekistan could still take that place of the South Koreans as only a point separates them but they themselves have a four point cushion over Syria whilst holding onto the playoff place.

Japan and Saudi Arabia head Group B on 16 points each and Australia are in the playoff spot three points behind the leaders.