Topsy-turvy South American qualifiers

September 05, 2017
Argentina's Lionel Messi, right, and Mauro Icardi train for a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying football match against Venezuela, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP):

Only one thing is certain in South American World Cup qualifying: Brazil has advanced and is the best team on the continent.

The three other automatic berths are up for grabs with three rounds to play, starting with five qualifiers today.

Seven teams have a shot. A fourth team will face a play-off against a team from Asia.

Despite a woeful qualifying campaign, Argentina can bolster their fifth place when they play Venezuela, the weakest team in the region. Second-place Colombia are at home against Brazil and have a tougher job. The final two rounds are next month.

Brazil lead the region with 36 points, followed by: Colombia (25), Uruguay (24), Chile (23), Argentina (23), Peru (21), Paraguay (21), Ecuador (20), Bolivia (10), Venezuela (7).

In other matches on Tuesday, Bolivia vs Chile; Paraguay vs. Uruguay; and Ecuador vs Peru.

Argentina need goals

New coach Jorge Sampaoli is sticking with his three powerful forwards Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi despite them being impotent in the 0-0 draw at Uruguay last week.

Argentina have not scored in their last two qualifiers and have only 15 goals in 15 matches. Only Bolivia are worse with 13.

 

BIG BLOW TO MORALE

 

Despite the problems, Argentina are favoured to beat Venezuela in Buenos Aires, which would keep the Albiceleste in a strong position. A loss would be a giant blow to morale for the 2014 World Cup finalists.

There is no lack of urgency for Colombia.

"We have lots of reasons to be really motivated," Colombia forward Radamel Falcao said. "We're at home, and our fate is in our hands."

James Rodriguez is expected to return from a right thigh injury after missing last week's match at Venezuela.

Recent history is on Brazil's side. They defeated Colombia 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and won 2-1 in the first qualifying match in September in the Amazon city of Manaus.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez says forward Luis Suarez "is less than 100 per cent" and doubtful for the match against Paraguay.

Usually cautious, Tabarez suggested Uruguay should win since Paraguay "is a team that is below the others."

That comment is sure to make Paraguay's bulletin board as it takes the field at home in Asuncion.

Chile will have to fight through the thin air in La Paz even though Bolivia are out of the running to make it to Russia next year. Chile are already coming off a jolting 3-0 home loss against Paragauy. La Paz is 3,650 metres (11,900 feet) above sea level.

Peru are going after a third straight win, but will also have to endure the altitude in the Ecuadoran capital Quito. Quito is 2,850 metres (9,300 feet) above sea level.

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