Written by Rick John Henry for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Club football action goes on hiatus this weekend for a variety of international action. In South America, the stakes could hardly be higher as countries vie for World Cup 2018 qualification. While sides have only played four matches out of a scheduled eighteen, the complexion of the table in South America is already suggesting a few surprises may be on the cards. This week we delve into the best bets across the two sets of fixtures.
Thursday 24 March
23/10 Bolivia | Draw 43/20 | Colombia 5/4
It’s still early days in the South American qualification for the 2018 World Cup, yet Bolivia already seem outclassed and unlikely to make an appearance in Russia. Bolivia have lost three of their four qualifiers to date, with only a 4-2 victory over rock-bottom Venezuela collecting points. Bolivia’s 7-0 friendly thrashing at the hands of Argentina in September last year seemed symptomatic of their coaching drama and the lack of direction plaguing the national side. Colombia will be disappointed to lie just a point above their hosts with a win, a draw and two losses. They’ve faced some tough opposition however and the greater quality within the squad should see them through. James Rodriguez will captain the side, with the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Abel Aguilar, David Ospina and Cristian Zapata adding plenty of experience in the absence of strikers Jackson Martinez and Radamel Falcao. Back Colombia to win at 5/4.
Ecuador 5/10 | Draw 11/4 | Paraguay 11/2
Ecuador are the surprise leaders of the qualifying group, having won all four of their matches to date. They opened their campaign with a superb 2-0 win away at an injury-hit Argentina, netting twice in the final 10 minutes. This was followed by home wins over Bolivia and Uruguay, before winning on the road in Venezuela. The victories last year completed a run of six wins on the spin for Ecuador, a side who breaks at pace with very dangerous wingers in Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia. Paraguay have given a good account of themselves thus far, lying fourth with wins over Venezuela and Bolivia, a draw with Argentina and a loss to Peru. Paraguay do not possess the firepower of some sides in the qualifiers but are defensively organised and tough to beat. However, I’m tipping Ecuador to keep the good times rolling at 5/10.
Friday 25 March
Chile 2/1 | Draw 2/1 | Argentina 14/10
Chile made a fantastic start to their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 victory over Brazil, building on their Copa America success of last year. This was followed with an exciting 4-3 victory on the road in Peru and a well fought 1-1 draw with Colombia. However, Chile’s 11-match unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of Uruguay in their last match under Jorge Sampaoli, going down 3-0. This leaves Chile in fifth place on goal difference, equal on points with Brazil and Paraguay. A tough tie against Argentina awaits, the first match with Jose Antonio Pizzi in charge. Argentina will be disappointed with their start to qualification. One win, two draws and a loss leaves La Albiceleste in sixth place and in need of a morale-boosting victory. Having Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero back in contention provides a huge boost and with Chile in a slump, Argentina must be backed at 14/10.
Peru 11/20 | Draw 11/4 | Venezuela 57/10
Peru wallow in ninth place out of 10, yet showed in the Copa America that they have what it takes to challenge on the international stage. Peru beat Paraguay 2-0 to finish third in last year’s competition and will be hoping to capture some of that magic in attempting to qualify for Russia. Recent results are poor however, with only one qualifying win to date. Venezuela find themselves even worse off, losing all four of their matches in qualifying. A recent 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica was their first victory since the first match of the Copa America, getting the best of Colombia in June 2015. With the exception of Salomon Rondon, Venezuela lack a real sense of quality, particularly through the spine of the side. I’m tipping the home win in this one at 11/20.
Saturday 26 March
Brazil 6/10 | Draw 29/10 | Uruguay 9/2
Brazil have also had their problems in qualification so far, losing their first match 2-0 to Chile. Lying third, Brazil then picked up a 3-1 win against Venezuela before a cagey 1-1 draw with Argentina. A 3-0 win over Peru saw Dunga’s men back to free flowing game plan with Neymar fronting the attack in a roving role rather than selecting a traditional target man. This seems to best suit the qualities in this modern Brazilian side. Uruguay will be delighted to have Luis Suarez back from his lengthy suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini. The Barcelona striker could be partnered by Edinson Cavani if Oscar Tabarez decides to go that route. Despite Uruguay being a bit hit-and-miss on the road, the away Win/Draw Double Chance at 12/10 makes a lot of appeal against a Brazilian side missing a definable focal point.
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