WORLD CUP: South American Qualifying preview

SouthAmerica

While Argentina storms towards a spot in next years’ finals in Brazil, the other teams fight for the remaining places. The surprise team Ecuador rests, and Colombia can extend their lead on Uruguay, Venezuela and Chile. Behind them, Peru, Bolivia and struggling Paraguay needs to win to keep their hopes alive.

Colombia-Bolivia

Los Cafeteros are huge favourites at home against a Bolivian team that won’t be able to count on their altitude advantage this time. Colombia coach José Nestor Pekerman have his formidable attack line with Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, but might have to do without injured stopper Aquivaldo Mosquera. The Colombians are perhaps the most exiting side to watch in this qualifying region, as Pekerman has fused a strong a fast team with excellent morale and good organization.

Bolivia will travel without their first choice goalkeeper Hugo Suárez, after his mother passed away. Much hope rests on in-form striker Carlos Saucedo to upset the home team for grabbing some sorely needed points.

But the Colombians have to make many mistakes not to come out on top, and will probably move into second spot on the table. As rivals Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela have some tough matches, Colombia might take a huge step towards securing a spot in Brazil.

Uruguay-Paraguay

The sky blue Uruguayans are natural favourites against a desperate visitor. The Paraguayans, which have went to every World Cup the last couple of decades, are now uncharacteristically at the bottom of the group.

The guests also travel without Lucas Barreiro, but fields the fighter Haedo Valdez and target man José Cardozo in attack. But the Albirrojas’ Achilles heel have revealed itself in defence, who will face another uphill struggle when facing the lethal strikers Edison Cavani and Luis Suárez.

Considering that the home team also are known for their organized and physical defensive play, a home win is on the cards here.

Argentina-Venezuela

Unlike previous qualifying campaigns, Argentina now seems like they’re in Brazil already. Alejandro Sabello’s side seems to have forgotten how to lose, and Messi and Higuaín have both scored seven goals, making them joint top scorers with Uruguays Suárez.

Argentina’s only problem seems to be their tendency to underestimate their opponents, as Venezuela are no longer a pushover. With target man Salomon Rondón and creative midfielder Juan Arango as star men, the Vinotintos aims to reach their first ever finals participation.

To succeed, they have to exploit the home side’s weakness between defence and midfield. Argentina will have to do without Angel Di Maria, but a replacement in Ever Banega can turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as the Valencia playmaker is much stronger when regarding defensive duties.

The Albiceleste should win this easily, and extend their lead at the top of the table.

Peru-Chile

Not many are aware of it, but this is one of the fiercest national side rivalries in the world. Dubbed “El clasico del Pacífico”, these matches have a life of their own.

The Peruvians are desperate for points, and the build up into this match has been even hotter than usual. The Chileans have demanded a defensive perimeter around their hotel, to avoid being harassed by home fans.

Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli recently took over for Claudio Borghi, who had to resign after a poor start to the campaign. Now the team seems to gel into former glory, but are still feeling the effects of a generational transformation. Sampaoli travels without Arturo Vidal and Cristian Díaz (both suspended), and also lacks a number 10 as both Jorge Valdivia and Matias Fernandez are out with injuries. But they still have plenty of quality in players like Alexis Sanchez, Eugenio Mena and Charles Aranguiz.

Sergio Markarian’s Peru lacks star striker Paulo Guerrero, but can still count on an impressive attacking line with Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfán. Mconcerning absentees are stopper Carlos Zambrano and midfielder Juan Vargas.  This leaves Peru with an even more unbalanced side than usual, but Mararian hopes to compensate with motivating his players for the “match of their lives”.

This can play into the hands of the Chileans, who with their “Bielsian” style thrives when given room for counterattacking. The Peruvians will certainly come out with a bang, and hope to overawe an unstable Chile defence in the early minutes.

These matches often turns into card bonanzas, where especially the Chileans have a tendency to self-destruct in the discipline department when things go against them. But hopefully we’ll see a high-paced, open match without too much ugly incidents. What is certain is that the atmosphere will be electric. This is definitely the match of this round.

Pal Odergard

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