Argentina fighting for World Cup spot
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) :
Brazil are in, and over the next week three more South American countries will join the five-time champions at the World Cup in Russia.
The fifth-place team from the region will also keep its chances alive, facing a play-off next month against New Zealand. That winner will also advance.
With two matches to play, Uruguay and Colombia are in the best shape to join Brazil at the World Cup. The biggest shock could be two-time champion Argentina, who will battle for a spot against Peru, Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador. Bolivia and Venezuela have been eliminated.
Argentina, runners-up three years ago in Brazil, have not missed a World Cup since 1970.
Argentina and Peru play tomorrow at Boca Juniors' La Bombonera stadium, among the world's most hostile venues for visiting teams. It's the first World Cup qualifier there in 20 years.
Both countries have 24 points, and a victory by either would be a giant step toward qualifying. A slip, and Argentina will have to win the final match in Quito, Ecuador, where the altitude of 2,850 metres (9,350 feet) is a burden for visiting teams.
Peru, coached by Argentine Ricardo Gareca, are at home to Colombia in their final game.
UNABLE TO LIFT TEAM
Argentina will be without Sergio Ag,ero for both matches after he fractured his ribs in a car accident last week. New coach Jorge Sampaoli has been unable to lift the team, which has drawn its last two matches, against Uruguay (0-0) and Venezuela (1-1).
Uruguay are in great shape. They have 27 points and second place in the standings, 10 points behind Brazil. They finish qualifying at Venezuela, and at home against Bolivia the two countries that are already eliminated.
Depending on other results, a draw at Venezuela tomorrow might be enough to guarantee Uruguay a place in their third straight World Cup.
Colombia have 26 points and beating Paraguay in the coastal city of Barranquilla could be enough to secure a place at its second straight World Cup. That would also eliminate long-shot Paraguay.
"We're fired up, but relaxed, knowing that this group can win the match and bring happiness to Colombia," defender Davinson Sanchez said.
Two-time defending Copa America champions Chile have only 23 points and are teetering on the edge. They are at home against Ecuador tomorrow, and then must beat Brazil next week in S,,o Paulo.
Chile have lost their last two matches, against Paraguay and Bolivia, an indication of the state of play.
Peru have 24 points and have won three games straight to get back into contention. After the match in Buenos Aires, they finish at home with Colombia.
"We're going to arrive at that final game in great shape," Argentina-born coach Ricardo Gareca said. "We've got this far with our determination."
Peru last reached the World Cup in 1982 in Spain.