Copa proved Argentina will struggle to reach World Cup

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The Independent Football

In another age, perhaps, Sergio Batista would have been given more time, but as the leaders of Argentinian Football Association met yesterday evening, it seemed increasingly probable he would be dismissed. His defenders, of whom there are increasingly few, have pointed out how poorly Carlos Bilardo's Argentina performed in the run-up to the 1986 World Cup which, of course, they won.

But Bilardo didn't face a qualifying series anything like as tough as the one on which Argentina are about to embark. This isn't about getting a side right for the World Cup in 2014, it's about making sure Argentina qualify.

Even though there's no Brazil, who qualify automatically as hosts, leaving a nine-team group from which four sides qualify automatically and one goes into a play-off, this is likely to be the toughest Conmebol qualifying series there has ever been.

The Copa America confirmed a trend that has been growing increasingly apparent over the past decade: in South America, there are no minnows.

Venezuela used to be better known for baseball and beauty contests than football, but after reaching the quarter-final on home soil four years ago, they have maintained their progress, making it to the semi-final this time.

Farias's side lost the third-place play-off to Peru on Saturday, and it is the Peruvians who have arguably made the most raid progress since the last qualifying series after finishing bottom of the table on that occasion, losing all nine away games.

Chile, although their defending of set-pieces was dire, probably played the most fluent football of the tournament, and although Colombia underwhelmed in the quarter-final, they comfortably topped their group. Paraguay were lucky in the knockout stage but were the better team in all three of their group matches.

Even the Conmebol sides who had the poorest tournaments, Bolivia and Ecuador, will be awkward when playing at home at altitude. The decision taken ahead of the 1998 World Cup to switch to the league format for qualifying, providing regular competitive fixtures and thus income, has been thoroughly vindicated.

Even Uruguay, the deserved champions, have probably benefited from that, although their rise is mostly down to their genius coach Oscar Washington Tabarez, a wonderfully astute tactician who has also generated a ferocious bond between his players. Given Uruguay have also reached the final of both the South American Under-20 championship and the World Under-17 championship this year, their future looks extremely bright.

So Argentina, for all their array of dazzling talent, are right to be worried.