The duel between Chile and Uruguay is the pick of the four games on Matchday 12 of the South American qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, which also features away days for group frontrunners Argentina and Colombia in Bolivia and Venezuela respectively. Meanwhile, third-placed Ecuador return to action as they entertain Paraguay in Quito.
FIFA.com looks ahead to Tuesday’s four crucial encounters in the CONMEBOL Zone.
The big game
Tuesday 26 March, Estadio Nacional, Santiago, 20:30 (local time)
It is a surprise to see these two sides struggling for form at this stage of the competition, one in which they had widely been tipped to claim two of the four direct qualification places. Respectively situated sixth and fourth in the table, neither can afford many more setbacks, which makes this game crucial to their hopes of progressing to the world finals.
While La Celeste boast a good record in Santiago, having won once and drawn twice in their last three visits and not lost a qualifier there since 1996, they have now gone five games without a win in the competition, conceding 11 goals in losing their last three matches on the road.
La Roja’s recent form is even more worrying, having failed to collect a point from the last 12 available or to win at home since November 2011, when they overcame Paraguay 2-0. To make matters worse, their Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez is suspended after reaching his quota of yellow cards.
On paper group leaders Argentina look clear favourites to overcome last-but-one Bolivia when the two meet in La Paz. The reality is, however, that the Bolivians have gone three games unbeaten against their illustrious opponents, a run that started with the 6-1 drubbing they inflicted on La Albiceleste at home in 2009.
Two 1-1 draws have followed since then, both on Argentinian soil and both in 2011, the first in the opening match of the last Copa America and the second in the early stages of the current qualifying competition. Alejandro Sabella’s side have lost just once in the group so far and are undefeated in eight, six of those games ending in wins, the last three of them consecutive. The visitors will nevertheless be without the suspended Gonzalo Higuain, the competition’s leading scorer, who scored two in Friday's 3-0 win over Venezuela.
Having just surged into second place, Colombia face a stiff test of their credentials when they travel to Venezuela. Despite a record of one win in six qualifying visits – a 2-0 success in 1996 – and the absence of Mario Yepes through suspension, Los Cafeteros will go to Puerto Ordaz brimming with confidence after stringing four straight wins together, though three of them have come at home. For their part La Vinotinto have not won on home soil since November 2011, registering a draw and a loss in the meantime. A further slip-up on Tuesday could see them relinquish the play-off spot they currently hold.
After sitting out Friday’s games and dropping to third place, Ecuador return to the fray with a home encounter with Paraguay. Reinaldo Rueda’s men have won five out of five at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa in Quito, scoring nine goals in doing so and letting in just one.
La Albirroja have never fared well in the Ecuadorian capital either, their only point in six qualifying visits coming in a 1-1 draw in 2009, a game that featured several members of the current squad. On the plus side for Gerardo Pelusso and his charges, they did end a run of five consecutive away defeats in holding Uruguay to a draw in Montevideo last week.
Player to watch
Felipe Caicedo (ECU)
The 24-year-old Lokomotiv Moscow striker has become an integral part of the Ecuador frontline, a fact underlined by the four goals he has scored in the three appearances he has made in the qualifiers so far, three of that haul coming from the spot. On the pitch for 180 minutes in all to date, Caicedo, who missed his side’s last outing in Venezuela through suspension, has struck a goal on average every 45 minutes.
Did you know?
In their last four games Colombia have scored an impressive 14 goals, as many as they managed in 18 matches in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010. The Colombians have also won their last four qualifying games, the first time they have managed the feat since the current system was introduced. Their previous best winning run was three games, achieved twice under Hernan Gomez on the road to France 1998.
What they said
“We all know what happened the last time. It was a big blow for those of us that were there and that’s why we want to things to be different this time around,” Lionel Messi recalls the 6-1 defeat Argentina suffered on their last qualifying visit to La Paz.