The top-of-the-table encounters between Argentina and Ecuador and Uruguay and Venezuela are the main attractions on Matchday 5 of the South American qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, not to mention Jose Pekerman’s first official game in charge with Colombia. sets the scene for the weekend’s four matches.

The big game
Saturday 2 June, Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, 15:00 (local time)

Boasting the best defensive records in the group, with just three goals conceded each, leaders Uruguay and third-placed Venezuela go into their rendezvous at the Centenario with unfavourable records to atone for. The only unbeaten side in the competition, La Celeste have gone 12 years and five games since they last beat La Vinotinto, who have yet to win away from home.

“I’ve never played against a weak Venezuela side,” said Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, who is ready to return to the side after missing their last game against Chile through injury. “I would have liked to have faced them in the Copa America final,” said Vinotinto coach Cesar Farias ahead of the weekend’s stand-out fixture. “We’re ready to put in a great performance.”

Argentina’s attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have aroused so much expectation that their meeting with Ecuador in Buenos Aires is already a sell-out, the first of the competition. Held to an unimpressive 1-1 draw in their last outing against Bolivia back in November, Alejandro Sabella’s men will be anxious to impress the fans, though the Ecuadorians, led by Antonio Valencia and Cristian Benitez, have no intention of making life easy for them. “We won’t be going to defend,” said Tricolor coach Reinaldo Rueda, whose side have six points and are tucked in among the leaders.

Fifth on goal difference behind Ecuador, Chile travel to Bolivia, where they have won on their last two visits. To prepare for the trip to La Paz, Roja coach Claudio Borghi has taken his team to the Atacama desert to acclimatise themselves to high altitude, just as they did on their last trip to the Bolivian capital. Their hosts, meanwhile, are the only side in the group yet to win a game and lie bottom of the table on one point.

In the weekend’s other match Peru play host to Jose Pekerman’s new-look Colombia. Home coach Sergio Markarian has a rash of injuries to contend with, not least to Claudio Pizarro, while Peru’s poor record in the fixture provides them with few grounds for optimism. On the eight occasions the Peruvians have hosted Los Cafeteros in FIFA World Cup qualifiers, they have won just once (back in 1981), drawing four of the other seven games and losing three. Nevertheless, Markarian’s charges can take comfort from the fact they ousted Radamel Falcao and Co in the quarter-finals of last year’s Copa America.

Player to watch
Arturo Vidal (CHI)
Fresh from lifting the Italian title with Juventus, the midfielder is starting over with La Roja, having been forgiven for his previous misdemeanours. Vidal made his last appearance in the 4-2 defeat of Peru in El Clásico del Pacífico, and is ready to repay coach Borghi’s faith when he makes his international return in Chile’s awkward assignment against Bolivia in La Paz. “It’s very nice to be back and it’s important for me,” said the former Colo Colo player. “I’m in the right frame of mind for the national team and the obvious objective is to reach the World Cup.”

Did you know?
Ecuador have never won a FIFA World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires, though they did come close on their last visit on 15 June 2008, when Rodrigo Palacio struck in the 89th minute to salvage a 1-1 draw for Argentina. Prior to that game, La Albiceleste had won four meetings between the teams in the Argentinian capital, scoring ten goals and conceding only one in the process.

What they said
“I’d picked the team I was going to put out for the Colombia game almost a month ago. It would be stupid for a national team coach not to have something like that in mind, but now all these injuries have come up and I’ve got to replace players who were going to start. It’s a problem I hadn’t bargained for and we’ll just have to deal with it,”
Peru coach Sergio Markarian ponders his selection problems ahead of the meeting with Colombia.


Sat 2 June
Uruguay - Venezuela
Bolivia - Chile
Argentina - Ecuador

Sunday 3 June 
Peru – Colombia