A place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia is off in the distance and fuzzy right now for Argentina, but can be brought back into focus with a slump-busting win at home vs. one of the teams that sits above in the standings.
Matchday 12 of CONMEBOL’s World Cup Qualifying campaign takes place on Tuesday, and arguably the biggest match in this round will be held in Argentina when La Albiceleste welcome Colombia. The Argentines are still reeling from an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to rival Brazil that kept them out of the top half of the table, but that can be forgotten about if they are able to end the year with a win over Colombia that would move them into fifth place at the very least.
One of the nations that Argentina can leapfrog with three points is Chile, which will try and prevent that from happening by defending its home turf. The problem for the reigning South American champion is that it is squaring off with a second-placed Uruguay side that has not lost in four straight matches.
Brazil is another team that enters Tuesday on a good run of form, but the table-topper will be visiting an inspired Peru in a rematch of the controversial Copa America Centenario game that ended with O Canarinho‘s early elimination. The other games on tap include Ecuador welcoming a confidence-filled Venezuela, and Paraguay heading north for a clash with frustrated Bolivia.
Here is a closer look at 2016’s final round of action in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying:
BOLIVIA VS. PARAGUAY (3 P.M. – beIN Sports)
Heading into a game after being on the wrong end of a rout is not good for morale, but the damage done to team spirit can be lessened when you know your next opponent is also coming off a lopsided defeat.
That is the case for both Bolivia and Paraguay.
After enduring surprising blowout losses on Matchday 11, Bolivia and Paraguay will attempt to bounce back when they face off against one another. La Verde will have the homefield advantage as the game is being played at the infamous altitude of Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, but needs to avoid the type of defensive errors that proved so costly in last week’s shock 5-0 loss to Venezuela.
For Paraguay, the challenge will be in moving past the deflating 4-1 home defeat it suffered against Peru last Thursday. Los Guaranies are likely to deploy a defensive-minded strategy given the tough conditions in Bolivia, but being stronger defensively and more clinically in the attack are requirements if they wish to come out with three points on the road.
ECUADOR VS. VENEZUELA (4 P.M. – beIN Sports Espanol)
Seeing Venezuela on the schedule has been far from daunting this campaign. Ecuador, however, has to play the side that is coming off a confidence-boosting, five-goal victory.
Ecuador will play host to Venezuela at Estadio Olimipico Atahualpa in Quito, and is in need of three points in front of its crowd in order to avoid finishing 2016 on a three-game winless run. La Tricolor has slipped to fourth place in the standings due to this bad stretch, and another poor result would put the home side at risk of falling out of top five in the table.
Venezuela’s World Cup chances are essentially over, but La Vinotinto can adopt the role of spoiler if it can continue to be as good in front of goal as it was in the recent 5-0 triumph over Bolivia. The Venezuelan player to watch here will be 23-year-old forward Josef Martinez, who should be feeling good after enjoying a hat-trick performance in the last round.
ARGENTINA VS. COLOMBIA (6:30 P.M. – beIN Sports Espanol)
It is almost unfathomable to think of Russia 2018 and not envision Lionel Messi and Argentina playing. Yet that scenario could be made into more of a reality if Colombia has its way against them.
Argentina enters its affair with Colombia at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario in San Juan in a bad way. La Albiceleste had its winless spell extended to four games in last week’s 3-0 loss to Brazil, and the pressure is mounting on Messi and Co. to fix the disjointed and lackluster play that they have demonstrated recently. The good news for the Argentines is that only two points separate them and Colombia, and prevailing at home would move them into the top half of the standings while also beginning to restore some confidence heading into 2017.
Colombia will be keen on preventing that from happening. Not only would a loss put Los Cafeteros in jeopardy of falling out of the World Cup picture, but also would see them finish out the year on a three-match skid. Some better finishing will likely be needed from the Colombians if they want to get a result, as that is what prevented them from topping Chile last week.
CHILE VS. URUGUAY (6:30 P.M. – beIN Sports)
Chile’s struggles in World Cup Qualifying have not yet been entirely resolved, and things are not exactly going to get any easier for the La Roja.
Uruguay is set to visit Estadio Nacional in Santiago to play Chile, and the fixture is sure to test the latter side as Los Charruas are on a four-game unbeaten streak that has seen them outscore opponents by an 11-3 margin. Chile should have some confidence after leaving Colombia with a point last week, but better all-around play will surely be required to knock off a second-placed Uruguay team that has given up just eight goals to this point.
While Chile will need to be sharp in the attack, its defense also needs to be tough to breakdown. Uruguay has scored an impressive 23 goals to this point, a total that is currently only bested by Brazil, and striker Luis Suarez and the rest of the squad will be aiming to add to that haul while inching their country closer to a World Cup berth.
PERU VS. BRAZIL (9:15 P.M. – beIN Sports Espanol)
The last time Brazil met with Peru, controversy reigned supreme and the South American heavyweight was knocked out of the Copa America Centenario.
Since then, Brazil has been flying high.
Brazil appointed Tite as head coach following the stunning, group-stage elimination at this summer’s tournament in the United States, and all the manager has done in World Cup Qualifying since then is lead O Canarinho to a five-game winning steak. Making that run even more impressive is the fact that the Brazilians have posted four cleansheets while outscoring opponents, 15-1.
Peru knows it will not be easy to pick up a second victory over Brazil in a matter of six months, especially since La Blanquirroja has only four wins all-time against the five-time World Cup champion. That said, the belief is high right now for the Peruvians given that they are coming off their first road win in qualifying in 12 years after rallying to a 4-1 win over Paraguay in round 11. They will also have Paolo Guerrero and Christian Cueva more than motivated for this encounter given that the attackers play their club soccer in Brazil.