The South American qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ ended with Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador all booking their places at the world finals along with Uruguay, who once again took the play-off route.
As an appetiser for this Friday’s Final Draw, FIFA.com looks back on the Brazil 2014 preliminaries courtesy of an exclusive survey of all the coaches who took part in the competition.
Best team: Argentina (57.15 per cent)La Albiceleste led the table for 14 of the 18 matchdays and qualified for Brazil with two games to spare. Argentina’s domination was recognised by most of the coaches, who voted them the best of the nine sides taking part in the CONMEBOL qualifiers. “They reached the finals with plenty to spare and they showed their superiority when they needed to,” said Bolivia coach Xavier Azkargorta, explaining his choice. Chile and Colombia also received backing, winning 28.57 per cent and 14.28 per cent of the votes respectively.
Surprise package: Colombia (28.57 per cent)In what was one of the categories where the vote was most evenly divided, Los *Cafeteros *edged out Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela. Paraguay coach Victor Genes was among those to plump for the Colombians, who achieved their objective of returning to the World Cup for the first time since France 1998. “I picked them because they managed to blend together some great players and a very able coach in Jose Pekerman,” said Genes. Former Peru boss Sergio Markarian was the only respondent to say there was no surprise package in the competition.
Most under-performing teams: Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela (28.57 per cent)Though Uruguay shared the “honours” in this category, they at least made it to Brazil. The fact remains, however, that it was a surprise to see a side with their talent and pedigree contesting the play-offs for the fourth time in a row. How La Albirroja would have wished to have been in their place. Participants in the last four world finals, their hopes of making it five were finally extinguished with two matches remaining. Meanwhile, Venezuela looked at one stage to be on their way to their first World Cup but lost momentum at a vital stage and dropped out of contention.
Best player: Lionel Messi (71.43per cent)His status as the undisputed leader of Argentina’s pack and the ten goals he contributed to their cause made Lionel Messi an obvious choice as the outstanding player of the qualifiers. At the age of 26, La Pulga finally seems to have found his feet in the national side and his performances prompted Azkargorta to comment: “He is an exceptionally influential player.” Markarian and Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda were the only respondents to cast their votes elsewhere, opting for Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani and Colombia’s Radamel Falcao respectively.
Best coach: Jorge Sampaoli (57.15per cent)Argentinian coach Jorge Sampaoli earned the recognition of most of his peers despite only taking on the Chile job in the second half of the competition. He was not the only coach from his country to excel, with compatriots Alejandro Sabella and Jose Pekerman coming in second and third behind him.
Standout game: Chile 3-3 Colombia (28.57per cent)Played out in Barranquilla, this pulsating match saw Chile surge into a 3-0 lead only for the home side to engineer a stunning fightback and secure the point they needed to book their place in Brazil. Rueda, Farias and Azkargorta all voted for matches involving their teams, while Markarian was the only one to vote for a game in which their side was defeated.
Also of noteThe Best Emerging Player category was unique in that it attracted different answers from each coach, though it is interesting to note that four of the young footballers nominated were Ecuadorian. Felipe Caicedo got the nod from Rueda, while team-mates Jefferson Montero, Juan Carlos Paredes and Cristian Chucho Benitez received the respective votes of Markarian, Azkargorta and former Venezuela boss Cesar Farias. Also mentioned in dispatches were Colombia midfielders James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado.