Leaders Argentina and third-placed Ecuador both face away trips tomorrow as they look to consolidate their positions in the South America qualifying group for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Second-placed Colombia sit out the latest round of games, while Uruguay and Chile, who host the Argentinians, are both anxious to improve their faltering form. At the other end of the table, meanwhile, Bolivia and Paraguay have no option but to start picking up points fast.
The big game
Tuesday 16 October, Estadio Nacional, Santiago, 20:05 (local time)
Chile and Argentina go into this game in very different frames of mind. Riding high at the top of the table, La Albiceleste are full of confidence after thumping Uruguay 3-0 win to extend their unbeaten run to six games. Lionel Messi has had a big hand in that purple patch and now has 30 international goals to his name, putting him fourth on Argentina’s list of all-time top scorers, just four behind Diego Maradona in third. Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero have also been in fine form of late, though striker Gonzalo Higuain has a hip injury and is doubtful for the trip to the Chilean capital.
The picture is not quite so rosy for Claudio Borghi’s men, who lie fifth after going down to Ecuador in Quito last week. That 3-1 defeat that was followed by a frank exchange of views in the dressing room, which ended with the players promising to turn round a campaign that looked promising in June, after three straight wins, but has now hit the buffers. To make matters worse Arturo Vidal, Osvaldo Gonzalez and Pablo Contreras are all suspended, though the Chilean midfield will be bolstered by the return of the combative Gary Medel. His bite will be crucial to halting the in-form Argentinians, who thrashed the Chileans 4-1 in Buenos Aires in the opening game of the competition.
Ecuador, who stand a point behind Argentina, are also on the road, with Venezuela their destination. Untouchable at their Quito stronghold, Reinaldo Rueda’s side have proved less impressive on their travels, losing two and drawing the other of their three away games to date. Sixth in the standings and aiming to pull up on the leaders, Venezuela should be full of running after enjoying a day off last Friday, and will be looking for yet more inspiration from Salomon Rondon. On the downside, Andres Tunez is out with injury.
Uruguay need to get back to winning ways fast after suffering defeats in two of their last three qualifying games, conceding eight goals in the process. La Celeste visit Bolivia tomorrow but will be without captain Diego Lugano, Diego Godin and Martin Caceres for what is a crucial game against a side just one point off the bottom of the table. The Bolivians have not given up hope of a place at Brazil 2014 yet, though as their Spanish coach Xabier Azkargorta acknowledged, they have a huge task ahead of them: “It’s tough, but there are 24 points left and we’ll be fighting for every one of them.”
Four-time FIFA World Cup finalists Paraguay are the side who lie below Bolivia and need a minor miracle if they are to get back into the qualification race. Beaten in their last five games, they entertain Peru with designs on avenging their 2-0 loss in Lima 12 months ago. The Peruvians fielded a reshuffled side in their 1-1 draw in Bolivia last week, and will be looking to striker Claudio Pizarro to spearhead their push for more valuable points in Asuncion.
Player to watch
Marcelo Martins (Ecuador)
After playing only the second half against Peru, Martins has earned himself a spot in the starting XI for the clash with Uruguay. He scored twice against the Uruguayans in qualifying in 2008, and will be hoping for more of the same this time out. "As long as we're moving in the right direction, we're still alive in qualifying," said the 25-year-old ace who already has nine goals in World Cup qualifying.
Did you know?
Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldinho were the inspirations behind the low free-kick that Lionel Messi fired under the Uruguay wall to seal Argentina’s 3-0 win in Mendoza on Friday. Speaking afterwards, Messi said he decided to take a leaf out of their book after seeing them score with similar strikes last week: “The keeper was standing still, and he knew I like to send the ball over the top. I guessed the wall was going to jump and so I decided to hit it low.” For the third time in a week, the tactic paid off.
What they said
“It’s been a tough week and this result hurts. It was a derby, we needed the three points, and we’re in a tight spot now. Every game will be a final for us, and our trip to the World Cup is in danger,” Uruguay captain Diego Lugano reacts to his side’s 3-0 defeat to Argentina last Friday.