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 By Tim Vickery

Icardi, Benedetto, Aguero among Argentina's centre-forward options

Who will be Argentina's centre-forward in next week's crunch World Cup qualifier at home to Peru?

Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan has been the chosen one since the latest coach, Jorge Sampaoli, took over in the middle of this year. Icardi led the attacking line a few weeks ago against Uruguay and Venezuela.

But another candidate has emerged. Dario Benedetto of Boca Juniors is playing well on a team that is giving him plenty of opportunities. He helped himself to another two goals away to Velez Sarsfield at the weekend. And his chances may well have been boosted by the fact that Argentina have chosen to take this match to the Bonbonera, Boca's stadium and Benedetto's home patch.

Readers of 'Ole!,' Argentina's sports daily, were asked to help Sampaoli make his choice between the two. Over 50,000 votes were cast, with Benedetto the clear favourite of the fans as 81 percent voted for him, and 19 percent preferring Icardi.

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This duality entirely ignores a third centre-forward in the national team squad, a player who travelled across the Atlantic only to spend the whole game on the bench when Argentina were desperate for goals against Venezuela earlier this month. That is Man City's Sergio Aguero.

This will certainly come as a surprise to a Premier League audience. Aguero has had a splendid start to the season. For the time being he appears to be ahead of Gabriel Jesus as his team's senior striker, and the goals have been rattling in -- as has been the case ever since Aguero came to England. Only a saved penalty against Shakhtar Donetsk stopped him becoming the club's joint all-time top scorer.

But another missed penalty would seem to symbolise his recent fortunes with Argentina. Aguero also had his spot kick saved in the 1-0 home defeat to Paraguay a year ago. In five starts plus three appearances off the bench, Aguero has yet to score in the current qualification campaign.

Sergio Aguero has been much-maligned for his national team play, but the Manchester City star has as many international goals as Diego Maradona.

His form was also disappointing in some of the recent tournaments; though he did well in the 2015 Copa America, he made little impression in the previous year's World Cup or last year's Copa Centenario. An impression has been created of a player who is a perpetual underachiever at international level.

That is somewhat harsh, though. Aguero has 34 goals for his country -- the same number as a certain Diego Maradona. Hernan Crespo has one more, and above that are only Gabriel Batistuta and Lionel Messi. Aguero cannot be branded a complete failure. He is looking very sharp at the moment -- and he will not have the responsibility of taking penalties against Peru, as that job is Messi's when he is fit and available.

It is also almost certainly the case that Aguero would be Messi's choice to spearhead the attack. There is next to no time for international teams to train before these big matches. Messi's only experience of lining up with Icardi came in the recent two qualifiers, when they were unable to establish a connection. He has never been on the same team with Benedetto.

But Messi and Aguero go way back -- they were roommates in 2005 when the pair helped Argentina win the Under-20 World Cup. They struck up a firm friendship. Over the years there have been glimpses of their relationship on the field, occasional quick exchanges of passes which result from a mutual understanding.

With an excess of pressure and an insufficiency of training time, Aguero would be the safest bet to lead Argentina's attack next Thursday. But it would be a highly unpopular decision that -- at least before the game -- would leave Sampaoli facing a lot of criticism.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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