Most of the attention on the 18th and final matchday of South American qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ will be focused on two games.
Chile and Ecuador face off in Santiago knowing that a draw will take both of them through to the global finals. The pair are tied on 25 points, with the visitors boasting a slightly superior goal difference of +5 to Chile’s +3. Uruguay, who lie three points behind and have a goal difference of -1, will be monitoring events in the Chilean capital closely. To qualify automatically, they need to beat old foes Argentina by a handsome margin at home and hope for a winner in Santiago.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the final round of games in the South American Zone.
While a draw will be good enough to send both sides to Brazil 2014, Chile have never been content to sit back and let things happen since Jorge Sampaoli took charge of the team, as they showed in Barranquilla last Friday. And while on that occasion they let slip a three-goal lead that would have taken them through to the finals, La Roja served notice once again of their attacking intent, and go into this decisive game on the back of an impressive run of four straight wins and that draw.
In stark contrast El Tricolor’s away record in the competition has been underwhelming. Still to win on the road, they have collected just three points out of a possible 21 away from their Quito citadel. On the bright side, and though they have never beaten Chile in a qualifier in Santiago in ten attempts, they escaped with 0-0 draws in two of their last three visits, in 2001 and 2006, the Ecuadorians going on to qualify on both occasions. Looking ahead to the game, their coach Reinaldo Rueda said: “They’re very tough rivals and we’re not going to relax. We need to make sure we qualify because the boys and the people deserve it.”
Uruguay host Argentina in Montevideo knowing that they have to win and hope for a decisive result in Santiago to have any chance of qualifying direct. At the very worst, however, they will finish no lower than fifth, which would entitle them to a fourth consecutive play-off, this time against Jordan. La Celeste have beaten their neighbours only once in the capital in four World Cup qualifiers, a 1-0 victory in 2005, which is also the only time they have beaten La Albiceleste in the preliminaries home or away. For their part, the Argentinians have already made sure of top spot for their third time since the current round-robin system was introduced.
Still recovering from their celebration party, Colombia head to Asuncion to take on Paraguay. The only remaining goal for Los Cafeteros is to seal second place in the table, which would be their highest ever finish, improving on the third place they managed in reaching France 1998. The Colombians are entitled to feel confident too, having won on their last three qualifying visits to the Paraguayan capital, scoring seven goals in the process and conceding none. La Albirroja have a far more modest objective in mind: scoring the points they need to make sure they do not finish bottom.
The very last match of the competition will be played in Lima, where seventh-placed Peru entertain Bolivia, who lie bottom. The Peruvians, have lost four on the bounce, though three of those defeats came away from home. They have not suffered a qualifying loss to the Bolivians since going down 2-1 in 1989, while their guests have gone six games without a win and have conceded in every one of their last 24 matches in the preliminaries.
Player to watch
Arturo Vidal (CHI)
The scorer of four goals in the last four games, Vidal has been one of the main architects of Chile’s revival in the second half of the competition. Nicknamed Rey Arturo (King Arthur), the 26-year-old Juventus midfielder is his country’s joint-leading marksman in the Brazil 2014 campaign with five goals, and is hoping to cap one of the most prolific spells of his career with a second world finals appearance.
Did you know?
No Uruguayan or Colombian player has topped the goalscoring charts since the current qualifying format was adopted. With Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain out of Argentina’s visit to Uruguay, Luis Suarez with ten goals and Radamel Falcao with nine have the chance to set that record straight. The leading marksmen in the last four CONMEBOL qualification competitions are Ivan Zamorano, who scored 12 in the preliminaries for France 1998, Hernan Crespo and Agustin Delgado (nine goals apiece on the road to Korea/Japan 2002, Ronaldo, who amassed ten in the Germany 2006 qualifiers, and Humberto Suazo, who also scored ten en route to South Africa 2010.
What they said
Diego Lugano, Uruguay defender: “Though we’ve still got a chance of qualifying direct, realistically our main objective is Jordan in the play-off. Once again we’ve taken the longest qualification route, but the main thing is to be at the World Cup. It doesn’t matter the position we qualify in or which day we do it on."