The biggest fixture on Matchday 17 of the South American qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ is the meeting between Ecuador and Uruguay in Quito, a match that sixth-placed Venezuela, who entertain Paraguay, will be keeping a very close eye on. The penultimate round of the competition also sees Colombia host Chile in Barranquilla in a game that could end with both sides clinching places in next year’s world finals.
It was only three matchdays ago that Ecuador stood seven points clear of Uruguay and seemingly on the verge of a place at their third World Cup. That cushion no longer exists and all that is keeping La Tricolor in the last of the four slots granting automatic qualification for Brazil 2014 is their superior goal difference.
Reinaldo Rueda’s side are unbeaten in Quito in this campaign, having won 86 percent of their points there: 19 out of 22. On the downside, they have gone four qualifiers without a win and have not overcome Uruguay at home since sweeping to a 4-0 victory in 1998, their one and only defeat of La Celeste in the preliminaries.
Oscar Tabarez’s men are making every effort to avoid a fourth consecutive play-off and go into the game on the back of three straight wins, two of them away from home. Should they win, and Chile lose in Colombia, both La Celeste and Los Cafateros would guarantee their places at Brazil 2014. “We’re coming into the game with growing momentum and we have to go on winning,” Uruguay striker Cristian Stuani told FIFA.com earlier this week. “We’re so close to booking our place.”
The day’s other big game takes place in Barranquilla, where Colombia host Chile. The prize for the winner is a ticket to the world finals and Los Cafeteros will be confident of picking it up, having won their last five matches in the city without conceding a goal. A draw would also be enough for the Colombians, who could even go through if they lose, provided that the Ecuador-Uruguay game produces a winner.
La Roja will be no pushovers, however. Not only have the Chileans won their last four games, they have not lost a qualifying match in Colombia since 2001, registering a win and a draw on Cafetero soil in the meantime. “Chile have to go for qualification,” said their coach Jorge Sampaoli. “We can’t sit around and hope for the best. We have a duty and we have to fulfil it.”
In stark contrast, Venezuela need a miracle if they are to maintain their flickering hopes of a World Cup debut. Without a game on Matchday 18, La Vinotinto have to beat the already-eliminated Paraguay at home and hope that either Ecuador or Uruguay lose their last two games in order to finish fifth. The task they face is made all the harder by the fact their goal difference is inferior to those of the two sides above them. The statistics are also against Venezuela, who have not beaten La Albirroja at home since 2001, though the visitors’ record of one point out of a possible 21 on the road in this competition gives cause for optimism in the Vinotinto ranks.
In the day’s other match Argentina, who lead the table and have already qualified, round off their campaign at home to Peru, whose qualification hopes are over. The list of notable absentees from the game is a long one, with the injured Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago all missing for La Albiceleste, and the Peruvians having to make do without the suspended Raul Fernandez, Carlos Zambrano, Yoshimar Yotun, Luis Advincula, Carlos Lobaton and Rinaldo Cruzado.
Player to watch
Marcelo Diaz (CHI)
A right-back until Jorge Sampaoli switched him to a central-midfield role at Universidad de Chile, Diaz provides essential balance in Chile’s ultra-attacking formation. Now 26, the Basel player is one of the first names on the Roja teamsheet, though he will need to produce his best football in the white-hot atmosphere of Barranquilla’s Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez Diaz.
Did you know?
Argentina have never lost a World Cup qualifier at home to Peru and have not even dropped a single point against them on home soil since 1985. On that occasion a late Ricardo Gareca strike earned La Albiceleste a 2-2 draw that sealed them a place at Mexico 1986, where they won their second world title. Four of their subsequent five home wins over the Peruvians have been by a 2-0 margin, the only exception coming in the 1993 meeting, a 2-1 victory.
What they said
“There are some things in sport that leave you with a bitter taste, but there is one thing I’m sure of, and that’s that true Venezuelans believe we have a chance and that we have to fight to the end. The people who got off the train earlier have already pulled on the shirts of other countries,” Venezuela coach Cesar Farias.
No game: Bolivia