- Paraguay-Uruguay the day’s big game * Ecuador host Peru in another crucial meeting * Only five points separate second from eighth
The South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ could not be tighter, with a mere five points separating second from eighth and three automatic berths and the play-off place still up for grabs.
Four of the seven teams still in contention face off in the day’s big two games, while the other three will attempt to boost their bids to make it over the line.
FIFA.com looks ahead to Matchday 16 of the CONMEBOL qualifiers, a day on which none of those seven sides will be able to clinch their place at next year’s world finals.
Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asuncion, 5 September, 20:00 (local time)
*Uruguay, who lie third on 24 points, had hopes of being more comfortably placed by this stage of proceedings, but now find themselves with little margin for error following a run of four games without a win, their only point in that time coming against Argentina last Friday. Their record at the Defensores del Chaco does not inspire much optimism either: one draw and five defeats in six visits.
Seventh on 21 points, Paraguay are full of confidence following their superb win in Chile and know that another victory over a direct qualification rival could catapult them into the qualification places. They have yet to record consecutive wins in these qualifiers, however, not even at home.
*Second on 25 points, Colombia entertain group winners Brazil, who have won nine games in a row and who have never lost to Los Cafeteros in 11 qualifying matches. The good thing for the Colombians is that they are the only one of the seven contenders guaranteed to end the day in the top five. Should they win, in fact, they could guarantee themselves a play-off spot at the very worst, depending on how results go elsewhere on the day. Their star man James Rodriguez is set to start.
Chile (fourth on 23 points) visit Bolivia (ninth on 10) with their pride dented and first-choice duo Gonzalo Jara and Charles Aranguiz both suspended. La Roja have followed up a defeat with a win on all but one occasion in this qualifying competition, while their record against the Bolivians is second to none: seven consecutive victories in qualifiers, three of them in La Paz.
Languishing in fifth place on 23 points, Argentina need maximum points from their home game with bottom-placed Venezuela, who are long since out of the reckoning and are now rebuilding. La Albiceleste have not had it easy against anyone, however, and though they have beaten La Vinotinto in their five qualifiers on Argentinian soil, they have already lost at home to Ecuador and Paraguay in this competition. In team news, Javier Mascherano will come in for the suspended Gabriel Mercado, while Ever Banega returns from suspension.
The other match involving teams still in with a chance of qualifying sees eighth-placed Ecuador host Peru, who lie two places and one point above them. Beaten in their last three matches, La Tri have never lost to the Peruvians in Quito, recording four wins and a draw in those five meetings to date. While Luis Caicedo and Jefferson Orejuela both return from suspension, they will be without Fidel Martinez following the yellow card he picked up against Brazil. Having collected 11 points from their last five games, the resurgent Peru welcome back Paolo Guerrero and Renato Tapia, who comes in for the suspended Pedro Aquino.
Player to watch
Oscar Romero (Paraguay)
The 25-year-old attacking midfielder is in the form of his life and has nailed down his place in the side. A tireless worker, he is a crucial figure for Paraguay in the run-in and his eye for goal could be decisive against Uruguay.
*Did you know?
*Ecuador have a 100 per cent record in the seven matches in which Felipe Caicedo has scored for them in Quito, a run that spans three qualifying competitions. One of those wins came on the road to South Africa 2010, two in the preliminaries for Brazil 2014 and four in this campaign. Can he keep the sequence going against Peru?
*What they said
*"Results haven’t been as bad as they could have been and that’s something we have to bear in mind in trying to give ourselves a lift. When things get rough, there’s always something there for you to hold on to." *Chile coach Juan Pizzi
Matchday 16 fixtures