Matchday 11 of the South American qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ marks the return of the competition following the region’s summer break and the start of the last push towards next year’s world finals.
For the teams populating the lower regions of the table, who have little margin for error, it is virtually a point of no return. In contrast, the situation is far more promising for Argentina and Colombia, who have the chance to cement their positions in the top three, while second-placed Ecuador, who have no game on Friday, will stay in the direct qualification slots come what may.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the day’s four games.
The big game
Friday 22 March, Estadio Nacional, Lima, 21:10 (local time)
El Clásico del Pacífico is always an occasion in itself, but with so much at stake, this latest edition should be even spicier than usual. Though one place off the bottom, Sergio Markarian’s side were showing clear signs of recovery at the end of 2012 only to then lose their final game of the year away to Paraguay. That setback left them four points adrift of the sixth-placed Chileans and this would seem to be their last chance to push for a place at Brazil 2014.
Level with Venezuela and Uruguay on 12 points, Chile are still very much in the hunt for a direct qualification place, but can afford few slip-ups at this stage of proceedings. Their form has been promising under new Roja coach Jorge Sampaoli, however, and their last qualifying visit to Lima, made in 2009 under Marcelo Bielsa, also bodes well, that game ending in a 3-1 win for the visitors.
That was only Chile’s second FIFA World Cup qualifier victory on Peruvian soil, the other five meetings between the two sides in Lima all ending in home wins.
Leaders Argentina will put their excellent form to the test against Venezuela in Buenos Aires, their first game in the capital for nine months and where they have not lost a qualifier since the fateful 5-0 defeat to Colombia in 1993. La Vinotinto, who are currently on course to reach the world finals for the very first time, are the only side to have beaten La Albiceleste in this qualifying competition so far, though Alejandro Sabella’s men appear to have put that 1-0 defeat in 2011 behind them. The only question hanging over the group leaders is how they will respond to the absences of the injured Sergio Aguero and the suspended Angel Di Maria.
Colombia will replace the resting Ecuador in second if they overcome Bolivia in Barranquilla. Boasting James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Teofilo Gutierrez in their ranks, Jose Pekerman’s side are a much-vaunted attacking unit, though their stats at the back are also impressive. Having conceded just six goals to date, and only one in their last four games, Los Cafeteros have the second-tightest defence in the competition. Now second from bottom after collecting seven points from a possible 12, the Bolivians need to keep their run going to stay in contention. Goalless and pointless on their last four visits to Colombia, they nevertheless face a daunting assignment.
After contesting the final of the 2011 Copa America and playing out a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in the group, Uruguay and Paraguay face off in a match neither can afford to lose. Oscar Tabarez’s Celeste find themselves in a surprising and not to say uncomfortable fifth position, having gone down to heavy defeats in their last two games. On the positive side, the Uruguayans remain unbeaten in Montevideo, where they have scored an average of 2.8 goals per game. La Albirroja are even more delicately placed. Bottom with seven points, they have lost all their away games so far, though they lie a mere five points behind their opponents on Friday.
Player to watch
James Rodriguez (COL)
While most of the attention in Barranquilla will be focused on goal machine Radamel Falcao and local boy Teofilo Gutierrez, Colombia’s best chance of unlocking the Bolivian defence could well lie with attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, who has been making a name for himself lately with Porto. Still only 21, Rodriguez has become an essential part of Jose Pekerman’s attacking plans. Adept at creating space for his team-mates, he is also a playmaker and goalscorer rolled into one, having found the back of the net twice in the campaign to date.
Did you know?
Gerardo Pelusso will be taking on his native Uruguay for the first time since becoming Paraguay coach and faces something of a quandary in doing so. Though victory for his adopted side in Montevideo could trigger their revival, it would leave La Celeste in a difficult position.
Discussing the question of divided loyalties with FIFA.com only last month, Pelusso made it clear where his allegiances now lie and illustrated the point by revealing what happened when he went on holiday to the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este:
“Absolutely everybody was asking me what’s going to happen when I come over with Paraguay. And I said the same thing to all of them: ‘We’re coming to win’. One guy didn’t like it and he said to me: ‘How can you say that?’. But what did he expect? I’m the coach of Paraguay, not Uruguay. We almost had a fight right there in the street.”
What they said
“Venezuela play to win against everyone now. There was a time when we played to make history, to be heroes, but we’ve beaten everyone in South America and we know we can win things. We need a result in Buenos Aires,” Venezuela coach Cesar Farias sets the tone for his side’s trip to Argentina.