With four rounds of games remaining in the South American qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and seven points separating the sides in third and seventh places, Matchday 15 is sure to prove a testing occasion for the teams still hoping to nail down a berth at next year’s world finals.
Fourth meets sixth in the pick of the day’s games as Chile take on Venezuela in Santiago, while Ecuador’s trip to Colombia and Uruguay’s visit to Peru also look certain to have a significant bearing on the final outcome in the group.
FIFA.com previews Friday’s quartet of South American qualifiers.
After four straight defeats that made them fear for their prospects, Chile have got back on course for Brazil following Jorge Sampaoli’s appointment as coach. La Roja have much to play for as they go in search of an unprecedented fourth qualifying win in a row. Should they overcome the Venezuelans, they could well make sure of finishing no lower than fifth place, which would entitle them to a play-off at the very least.
Currently five points clear of La Vinotinto, Chile have prevailed in 16 of the 23 meetings between the countries, though Venezuela have very happy memories of the Estadio Nacional, having recorded their first ever away win in a world finals qualifier in the preliminaries for Korea/Japan 2002.
“We’re facing 90 minutes against a very good side, though we’ve always managed to put in great performances against them,” said Venezuela coach Cesar Farias, recalling that ground-breaking 2-0 victory in 2001. The Vinotinto squad features two survivors from the side that achieved that landmark triumph: midfielder Juan Arango, who scored their second that day, and goalkeeper Renny Vega.
In Barranquilla, meanwhile, Colombia take on neighbours and rivals Ecuador with their sights set on pulling level with leaders Argentina. The visitors, who lie third, have incentives of their own: the chance to overtake the Colombians in the standings and to keep Chile, who stand fourth on the same number of points, at bay.
The coastal city was the venue for Ecuadorians’ last qualifier win on Colombian soil, which came way back in 1965. La Tricolor have also yet to win away from home in the current qualifying competition and have scored just three of their 17 goals on the road. In contrast Los Cafeteros have been in peerless form at home recently, amassing 13 goals in winning their last four matches in front of their fans and having now gone 367 minutes without conceding in their own backyard. Their only worry going into the game is Radamel Falcao’s niggling ankle injury.
Peru and Uruguay face off in Lima with only two points and two places between them. The seventh-placed Peruvians, who have the chance to leapfrog the visitors in the table, have collected 13 points from their six home games to date, an impressive record that has kept their dream of a first world finals appearance since Spain 1982 alive. La Celeste, meanwhile, have not won in Peru since 2001.
The day’s other game pits together bottom two Paraguay and Bolivia in Asuncion, with both sides harbouring the slimmest of hopes. The Bolivians have not won a FIFA World Cup qualifier away from home since 1993 and have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 23 qualifying games. For their part Paraguay have collected maximum points from their seven home meetings with La Verde, shipping just three goals in the process. The loser of this game will need results elsewhere to go their way if they are to retain a mathematical chance of reaching Brazil.
Player to watch
Segundo Castillo (ECU)
The experienced midfielder will be a key figure in Ecuador’s trip to Colombia, which comes at a time when they are still mourning the tragic death of forward Christan Benitez. Thanks to his presence of mind at set-pieces, the man they call El Bombardero, who plays for Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal, has scored three goals so far in the qualifiers, one of them coming on the road. Tricolor coach Reinaldo Rueda will also be banking on Castillo to cut Colombia’s supply lines and distribute the ball with his usual aplomb.
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Sergio Markarian is preparing to face his native Uruguay for the fourth time as Peru coach, having registered two defeats and a draw on the three previous occasions. Markarian fared slightly better against his home country when in charge of Paraguay between 1999 and 2002, overseeing three wins at La Celeste’s expense in that time.
What they said
“Things are pretty intense at the moment but we can’t let ourselves get carried away by the understandable excitement of the fans. We’re excited too because we want to finish off the job of qualifying, though we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves or forget about the immediate task in hand,” Colombia striker Jackson Martinez, who may well deputise for Radamel Falcao against Ecuador should the Monaco star fail to shake off his injury.