The Copa America may not be the World Cup, but there is nevertheless no argument that success in the continental competition is key to the preparations of South America's most prestigious footballing nations. By the same token, failure could prove to be disastrous; and that is exactly what Sergio Batista's Argentina face if they cannot overcome Costa Rica on Monday evening and win their place in the quarter-finals.
Two timid, shambolic draws against Bolivia and Colombia have raised the temperature for the coach in the middle of his first tournament at the helm of the Seleccion, and a first-round exit could mean that his 12-month reign comes to an abrupt end if Argentina endure such humiliation on home soil.
One must look back to 1983 to find the last time the Argentines exited in the first stage of the Copa America, although back then qualifying was an altogether more difficult prospect. The Albiceleste were edged out on goal difference by a Brazil team who boasted the talents of Roberto Dinamite, Renato Gaucho and Socrates, unbeaten in a group stage which allowed just one team from three to advance to the last four. This time around, however, with groups almost hand-picked to allow the hosts to go through with minimum fuss, elimination would come with far graver consequences.
The results have been worrying for Lionel Messi and Co., but the most damning aspect of the two stalemates thus far has been the lack of ambition and attacking penetration shown by the pre-tournament favourites. Batista's sacred 4-3-3 with Messi at No. 9 failed to click, and at times the approach to goal against Colombia and Bolivia was nothing short of desperate. Sunday's Group A clash in Santa Fe, where two goals from Falcao sealed a Colombia victory over Bolivia, betrayed the weakness of the Andean nation, and left stark just how poor Argentina were in failing to overcome the team already condemned to last place.
That win confirms Colombia's place at the head of the group, with seven points and not a single goal conceded by Hernan Gomez's formidable defensive unit. The Albiceleste, then, have only second place to fight for, and if they draw against Costa Rica the team will be left praying that three points is enough to secure one of the best third-placed spots. A loss, and home interest in the Copa will be over sooner than anyone could have foreseen