We preview Thursday and Friday's Sout American World Cup Qualifiers.
The CONMEBOL South American qualifying campaign really comes to life this week with two massive encounters that exemplify the difficulty of South American qualification. Uruguay host a resurgent Brazil - trying desperately to exorcise the memories of that Germany 7-1 semi-final defeat - in a tie that could have huge permutations in the group. Elsewhere, Argentina will hope to kick-start their stuttering campaign in a rematch of the Copa America final against Chile.
The South American process really is the most difficult route to the hallowed World Cup. In European qualifying - for instance - how often do the elite European sides have to face each other? Ecuador will hope to capitalise on the major clashes and steal a march on somebody en route to an automatic qualification spot.
Thursday 23 March
Colombia 1/6 | Draw 57/10 | Bolivia 14/1
Jose Peckerman’s side have a real opportunity to put pressure on the likes of Chile and the pre-ordained Argentina with this clash against a struggling Bolivian side. Angel Guillermo Hoyas’ side have not fared that well this campaign, even at their mythically imposing Stadio Hernandez Siles a million miles above sea level. They are thin on the ground in terms of quality, with the likes of Marcelo Martins and Bruno Miranda providing their goal threats.
Colombian captain James Rodriguez will relish the freer role that Peckerman affords him at international level. Under Zidane, Rodriguez plays in a midfield three that tends to keep thins fairly simple. Juan Cuadrado is in excellent form while the rest of the Colombian side is bristling with talent: Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez to name but a few. Radamel Falcao is fighting for fitness and Peckerman will be desperate to get his number one marksmen on the field.
Verdict: Colombia to Win to Nil at 6/10
Colombia should dominate a Bolivian side that has been dreadful on the road. Rodriguez will shine as he tries to remind audiences of his worth outside of the more restricted role he plays at Real Madrid.
Friday 24 March
Paraguay 29/20 | Draw 2/1 | Ecuador 2/1
Francisco Arce’s side will approach this as a must-win game if they hope to cling on to any notion of automatic World Cup qualification. They come up against a powerful Ecuadorian side that has really challenged the fundamental hierarchy that has underlined South American qualifying for years.
Gustavo Quinteros’ side are sitting pretty above both Argentina and Chile and will see this as an opportunity to gain some ground as their rivals for qualification are enmeshed in huge grudge matches. Antonio Valencia has had an amazing season for United while Everton’s Enner Valencia has made important contributions for Everton of late. This Ecuadorian side is awash with talent and an insatiable work ethic. Just looking at the likes of Caicedo, Montero and Ayovi, you can glean just why this side is doing so well. Paraguay still have Roque Santa Cruz in their squad, exemplifying something of a disparity between the two sides.
Verdict: Ecuador 2/1
This seems a decent price for something approaching a sure thing in my mind. Home advantage has proved critical in qualifying thus far, but this Paraguayan side is simply inferior to their Ecuadorian counterparts.
Uruguay 2/1 | Draw 9/4 | Brazil 13/10
It doesn’t really get much bigger than this in World Cup qualifying. This top of the table clash sees Titi’s rejuvenated Brazilian side travel to Oscar Tabarez’s redoubtable Uruguayan outfit. The home side has defied questions of stagnation with a solid qualification campaign. Victory here will bring Uruguay within a point of Brazil at the summit of the standings.
Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have been in sublime form and will pose their greatest threat. The likes of Godin will be glad for the absence of Gabriel Jesus but still have to contend with Neymar’s electrifying pace and presence. Titi has made some surprise selections, with Flamengo playmaker Diego and Sporting forward Diego Souza included amongst the elite of Europe. Douglas Costa also misses out due to injury, likely lending a real opportunity to Uruguay of halting the seemingly irrepressible Brazilian side.
Verdict: Uruguay 2/1
Brazil are clearly in terrific form and will pose Uruguay serious concerns. But the absence of both Jesus and Costa will affect the balance of the side. Uruguay are in excellent home form and boasts the considerable talent of Suarez and Cavani going forward. I expect the home side to just edge what is sure to be a tight fixture.
Argentina 5/10 | Draw 3/1 | Chile 52/10
This is a huge match that has lingering animosities in the air. Messi’s decision to abdicate international duties in the wake of yet another final defeat against Chile in the Copa America - though later rescinded - will be fresh in the memories of all those concerned this week.
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Bauza’s side are star-studded, with Di Maria, Higuain and Dybala fighting for room alongside Messi. Chile will be hoping that Alexis Sanchez can shake off the negative juju that has defined his recent Arsenal performances. Chile are so aggressive and will be looking to conquer the middle of the park, thereby nullifying that daunting Argentinian attacking line-up.
Verdict: Total Goals - Under 2.5 - 4/5
This should be an exceptionally tight encounter with the group so finely balanced, so I have hedged here and opted for discounting a goal festival, as an assiduous Chilean side aims to subdue Messi and co.
Venezuela 14/10 | Draw 43/20 | Peru 39/20
Rafael Dudamel’s side are metaphorically slugging it out with Bolivia to avoid being the recipient of the South American wooden spoon. They have little depth in their squad and have found it hard to navigate the infamously treacherous terrain of South American qualifying. Salomon Rondon is clearly a key player while Juventus’ Tomas Rincon is their most integral player.
Rincon is trying to fashion himself in the image of a new Edgar Davids at Juventus but is the captain of a weak and underperforming national side. Ricardo Gareca’s side will still feel that they have a fighting chance of securing qualification, but with the calibre of sides above them, it would seem a stiff task. Flamengo striker Pablo Guerrero is the main threat in a side that mostly plies their trade in Peru.
Verdict: Total Goals - Under 2.5 - 13/20
Venezuela will aim to frustrate for as long as possible. Neither one of these sides has been overly prolific, so I fully expect a tight, dogged encounter this week.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets