Friday, September 6, 2013

Brutal South American qualifiers in home stretch

Six of 10 teams could potentially be in Brazil next year

How tough are the South American qualifiers?

The defending Copa America champions and World Cup 2010 semifinalists are in trouble and in danger of missing out on Brazil 2014. 

Uruguay sit in the playoff spot--fifth place-- with 16 points, ahead of Venezuela (16) on goal difference and Peru (14) with four matches left.  One of these sides will need to get by either Jordan or Uzbekistan in a playoff to Brazil.

The Uruguayans have had most of their players intact since their run to the final four in South Africa three years ago. But the grueling marathon qualifiers that South America presents in a home-and-away format will take a toll on any top side. Just ask Diego Maradona whose Argentina's 2010 side took its worst defeat ever, a 6-1 drubbing in the skies of La Paz, Bolivia in qualifying.

In the first match of the day on a rain-soaked pitch that's being delayed, Colombia hosts Ecuador and can take a massive step towards qualification. Radamel Falcao, with seven goals, was 12 years old the last time Colombia went to the big dance. From the beginning of the qualifier process, the Cafeteros have presented an extraordinary side from top to bottom with 21 goals scored and seven conceded. The world has to witness the Colombian camp and, thankfully, they're on their way.

Ecuador, too, have made gigantic strides in the new century, especially after the re-formatting of the continent qualifying system and because of a near-perfect home record. They're close to clinching a spot in Brazil, its third World Cup, but will have their hands full in Barranquilla at the hands of its Colombian hosts. Manchester United's Antonio Valencia will marshall the Ecuadorean attack when its chances to counterattack come alive.

Meanwhile, Chile have won three in a row, have an in-form Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal and have a favorable record against Venezuela, their guests in Santiago later. The Chileans have regained their stature under manager Jorge Sampaoli after a hiccup in the middle of qualifying that saw them lose some high-profile matches. They're looking to ruin Venezuela's dreams of its first-ever senior World Cup.

The Vinotinto, historically a sure three points as the whipping boys of South America, have turned the tide and exported some talent, developed under several ex-players' guidance. The Venezuelans even topped Argentina at home in early qualifying and placed fourth in the 2011 Copa America. Whether that will translate into a berth to Brazil remains to be seen as they face a rejuvenated Peruvian side, who visit them next week.

The Peruvians haven't been to the World Cup in more than 30 years. The closest they got was France 1998 when they lost out to Chile on goal difference. Now they're closer than ever. Peru hosts Uruguay in the late match tonight; a loss or tie would essentially doom them to another four years of World Cup absenteeism. The game should serve some offensive glamour as Uruguay's threesome of Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani and Diego Forlan match up against the trident weapons of Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero. Their respective backlines, however, leave a lot to be desired.

Argentina, at the top of the table, rests this round and gets back to business on Tuesday in Paraguay, who host Bolivia later today. Both of these sides have little chance of being in Brazil next year.