World Cups are for the best players around but there is a serious risk in either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi missing the showpiece next summer, with the unimaginable scenario of both failing to qualify still alive.
The repercussions for sponsors, fans, and of course the great footballing nations of Portugal and Argentina would be severe, with the door possibly opening for the likes of Neymar to stake their claim as the world’s greatest.
Real Madrid winger Ronaldo goes into Tuesday’s game at home to Switzerland knowing that a win will secure Portugal’s passage to Russia, although anything else still opens the way via a tricky play-off with a fellow group runner-up.
That route would be a joyous one for Messi’s Argentina, who are left relying on other teams unless they can beat Ecuador away from home on the same evening (albeit in the early hours of Wednesday morning for European viewers).
Alternative dangers for CR7
While the play-offs represent a reasonable alternative for the Selecao, should they fail against Switzerland, they will know that a yellow card for Ronaldo on Tuesday means the forward missing the first leg through suspension.
The Swiss will be desperately fighting for their own place in the World Cup when taking to Lisbon, a factor which Argentina at least avoid when facing Ecuador, who have nothing to play for.
A victory for the sixth-placed Albiceleste ensures that they would at least enter the intercontinental play-off versus New Zealand, as fifth-placed Peru play Colombia, who are fourth.
If that match ends in a draw or a Colombia win, and Chile fail to beat runaway leaders Brazil in Sao Paulo, an Argentine victory secures a passage straight to Russia should they overtake Peru on goal difference.
An Argentine draw requires Paraguay to slip up at home to lowly Venezuela and a Peruvian defeat to reach the play-off, while an additional Chile defeat of more than one goal would guarantee a top-four finish.
Furthermore, Messi’s men can even lose in Quito and yet qualify in the event that Paraguay lose along with a Peru defeat to Colombia by more goals than whatever Argentina lose by, altering their goal difference balance.
There is no room left for error for the Barcelona star or his Clasico colleague, with the game of football respecting only the team whose player hits the back of the net in these crucial matches, no matter their prestige or past achievements.