By DAN KARELL
It’s been nearly 15 years since Colombia was last represented at a World Cup, getting knocked out in the group stages of France 1998. If the current side can keep up their form, they’ll be back in the World Cup in Brazil 2014 without a problem.
Colombia defeated Peru, 2-0, on Tuesday in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying at the team’s national stadium in Barranquilla. Peru, riding high on confidence following a major upset over Ecuador last Friday, were put in their places by the talented Colombian squad.
Radamel Falcao Garcia scored the match-winner with a 13th minute penalty kick and Teofilo Gutierrez added a second just before halftime from close range. Jose Pekerman’s men have no won four in a row at home and sit three points back of first-placed Argentina, with a game in hand.
Argentina meanwhile made the more than 3,000 mile trip to Quito to face Ecuador and recorded a positive result, a 1-1 draw, despite playing poorly at times.
The visitors got on the board first via a Sergio Aguero penalty kick in the fourth minute, but the home nation equalized through Segundo Castillo in the 17th minute. Teammate Walter Ayovi sent a curling out-swinging free kick into the six-yard box, where Castillo met the ball at the far post and headed it home.
Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano sparked controversy when he was sent off in the 88th minute after allegedly kicking a medical cart driver as he was being carted off the field for the physio staff to take a look at him. The decision from referee Enrique Caceres caused both benches to gather near the midfield line on the sideline, halting play for at least five minutes.
Despite the card, Argentina held on for the draw, ending Ecuador’s 100 percent record in World Cup 2014 qualifying at home.
The result in Quito allowed Chile to move level with Ecuador in the CONMEBOL standings as La Roja defeated Bolivia, 3-1, in Santiago.
Eduardo Vargas scored the opener for the second match in a row, finishing on the half-volley in the 16th minute to give Chile the lead. Alexis Sanchez followed it up two minutes with a close range header after a deflected shot went off the crossbar.
Bolivia’s Moreno Martins cut the deficit in half in the 32nd minute with a calm finish past Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. But Chile wouldn’t let the visitors in the match, continuing to attack the Bolivia goal before the final breakthrough came in the 90th minute from the head of Arturo Vidal.
Uruguay secured a huge boost ahead of the Confederations Cup, defeating Venezuela, 1-0, in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.
Edinson Cavani provided the difference for Uruguay, taking a long ball down on the right side of the field in the 28th minute and weaving his way through a maze of defenders before striking a left-footed shot that found the back of the net.
Though they continued to press for a goal, the Venezuelan’s couldn’t manage to sneak one past Uruguay stopper Fernando Muslera, allowing the visitors to leapfrog the hosts in the standings.
As things stand, Argentina sits atop the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying table with 26 points, followed by Colombia at 23. Ecuador sits in third place, ahead of Chile due to goal difference, though both nations have 21 points to their name. Uruguay now occupies the playoff spot with 16 points, again holding a goal differential advantage over Venezuela, also on 16 points in sixth place.
The bottom three are Peru (14), Bolivia (10), and Paraguay (8). Bolivia and Paraguay can now only get as high as fifth place, while Argentina has done enough to ensure a finish no lower than fifth.
What did you make of the results? Do you see Colombia as a dark horse at the World Cup? Did you agree with the decision to send Mascherano off?
Share your thoughts below.