Leaders Chile sit out the seventh round of games in the South American qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, which sees the newly appointed Xabier Azkargorta and Gerardo Pelusso take up their respective seats in the Bolivia and Paraguay dugouts.
The big game
Friday 7 September, Barranquilla, 15:30 (local time)
Former Argentina coach Jose Pekerman faces quite a task in his first official match in charge of Colombia, which pits him against Oscar Tabarez’s reigning Copa America champions, who lie just one point behind frontrunners Chile. Still to win in front of their fans, the sixth-placed Cafeteros have the opportunity to thrust themselves into the leading group, and also have history on their side, having beaten the Uruguayans in their previous two meetings in Barranquilla.
Just to add extra spice to an already enticing occasion, the match pits together two of the continent’s finest goalscorers: Radamel Falcao, who has been on scintillating form with Atletico Madrid, and Diego Forlan, his predecessor at Atleti and who has just celebrated his first goals for Brazilian club Internacional.
Alejandro Sabella’s Argentina entertain Paraguay in Cordoba, with both sides having enjoyed contrasting fortunes so far. While the hosts, who stand third, have designs on taking over at the top, La Albirroja are just one place off the bottom and have lost all their away games to date. The visitors will nevertheless be comforted by the fact that they have not lost a FIFA World Cup qualifier on Argentinian soil since 1973, having come away with a draw on their last five visits.
“We're not easy rivals for the Argentinians and we want that trend to continue,” new Guaraní boss Pelusso told FIFA.com.
Azkargorta is another coach bracing himself for a debut on Friday. The Spaniard, who steered Bolivia to their last FIFA World Cup finals appearance at USA 1994, returns to the post for their trip to Ecuador. It promises to be a tough task. Currently fourth, El Tricolor have won all three of their games in Quito so far and are out to claim the scalp of a side accustomed to playing at altitude but now shorn of the services of the recently retired Pablo Escobar, a goalscorer in the Bolivians’ 3-1 defeat of Paraguay in June.
Last but not least, Venezuela travel to Peru with designs on recording their first ever win in Lima. La Vinotinto, who sit in the play-off position and are aiming for their maiden FIFA World Cup appearance, will not have it easy against Jose Markarian’s side. Though bottom of the table, the Peruvians hope to field a full-strength side as they seek to revive their flagging campaign, with Paolo Guerrero striving to return from injury and partner Claudio Pizarro in attack.
Player to watch
Lionel Messi (ARG)
Messi’s nine goals in his last five international appearances have brought to an end a long debate about his performances for his country. Increasingly at ease in the role of captain, the Barcelona ace is now La Albiceleste’s fourth-highest scorer of all time and is out to add to his haul against Paraguay, a team he has yet to score against.
Did you know?
Uruguay have gone 18 games without defeat, their last reverse being a 2-1 loss to Germany on 29 May last year. Since then La Celeste have come away unscathed from meetings with the Netherlands, Italy and France. Their last visit to Colombia was also a successful one, the Uruguayans winning 1-0 in Bogota en route to South Africa 2010.
What they said
Cesar Gonzalez, Venezuela midfielder: “Peru beat us to third place at the last Copa America so obviously we’ve got some unfinished business with them. We’ll have to keep a cool head, though, because they’ve got some very good players who can turn a game just like that. As for us, we’re still very much focused on the idea of reaching the World Cup for the first time.”