By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
It's been a little more than a month since the festivities in South Africa concluded but work has already begun for many national teams all over the world eying Brazil 2014 as managers and administrators scramble to take advantage of upcoming FIFA dates in the next several month.
For South America, its teams will be hard-pressed to take advantage of 2014's location of the tournament buoyed by the fact that they will enjoy massive support should they achieve a ticket to Brazil, especially for the likes of those that missed out in this year's World Cup such as Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.
There's still the debate of whether or not South America will still have their 4.5 slots allotted to them as FIFA studies the issue since Brazil is obviously already in as host. But it'll be hard to not peg Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay as favorites to snap up the guaranteed spots. However, as many are already aware, the always-difficult South American qualifiers could provide a surprise or two and, as of today, is still scheduled to continue its home-and-away marathon format to determine representatives.
While Maradona and Dunga were ousted as national-team bosses for Argentina and Brazil, respectively, Paraguay and Chile retained Gerardo Martino and Marcelo Bielsa for another cycle and Uruguay is still negotiating with Oscar Washington Tabarez, who is seeking more compensation.
As for the other five national teams, here's a glimpse in their latest moves:
Hernan Dario Gomez was hired for his second stint as Colombia's manager and already has a full slate scheduled next month and in October. The Cafeteros missed qualifying for the fifth playoff spot by one point and goal difference in 2010 qualifiers but are ready to deploy their talent from abroad and within its domestic pool. Fans are still missing the classic #10 to bring that much-needed creativity to their team. Gomez, who took Ecuador to their first World Cup in 2002 but failed to replicate that success with Guatemala during the latest qualifiers, will see his first test at Venezuela on Sept. 3 and follow that up in Mexico on Sept. 7. While it hasn't been confirmed, it's being reported that Colombia will meet up with Ecuador and the U.S. in October.
In Ecuador, Colombian Reinaldo Rueda is the man at the helm of La Tri, who travel to Mexico Sept. 4 and are still negotiating for an opponent a few days later. With the Colombia friendly in the works, Ecuadorean press are speculating that the national team could also play with Poland, possibly in Canada. Ecuador were level on points with Colombia for the 2010 qualifiers, also barely missing out, but have have been a team on the rise this decade, exporting more and more quality players to top leagues and providing optimism towards a spot for Brazil 2014 because of continued depth of youth standouts. Rueda brought Honduras to its first World Cup in 28 years this past summer and has a respectable chance of taking La Tri to its third World Cup in 12 years.
Venezuela had one of its most successful qualifying campaigns in its history, finishing only two points out of the final playoff spot. The Vinotinto retained Cesar Farias, who took over for Richard Paez after he guided them for eight years but abruptly resigned halfway through the qualifiers. Always considered the whipping boys of South America and with baseball historically considered its national pastime, Venezuela steadily improved under the direction of Paez, who was seen as the first legit caretaker of the country's overall system. More importantly, with Farias once again as boss for this cycle, the team has brought consistency and professionalism with stadiums sprucing up in the country as the federation attempts to make its league more respectable and stronger as its teams contend in Libertadores and Sudamericana, the Champions League and UEFA Cup of South America. These factors may have convinced Athletic Bilbao defender Fernando Amorebieta to take advantage of FIFA's new rules and turn his back on Spain to join Farias and his country of birth, a major coup for the national team. The Vinotinto welcome Colombia and Africa's Equatorial Guinea for its September friendlies.
Meanwhile, Peru has introduced Uruguayan Sergio Markarian, also know as El Mago, or the magician. Markarian is familiar with Peruvian soccer, as he managed several sides in the country over a decade ago, including a stint with Sporting Cristal that finished runner-up in the 1997 Libertadores final. El Mago also took Paraguay to the 2002 World Cup and guided Greece's Panathanaikos to the quarterfinals of the Champions League and Uefa Cup in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Peru has not made it to the World Cup since 1982 but boast an array of talent, all of whom have collectively failed to garner any chemistry in the past several qualifying campaigns, dooming them to last place in the latest edition. But this year has seen a taste of some success for its domestic clubs as all three representatives put on a respectable display in this year's Libertadores, leading to the transfer of some players to Mexico and Argentina. Markarian has been flirting with the Peruvian federation for some time now but appears ready for the arduous task of uniting players, management, fans and the press. The Blanquiroja's first test comes against Canada on Sept. 4 in Toronto followed by a Sept. 7 meeting with Jamaica in Miami.
In Bolivia, countryman Eduardo Villegas is serving as national-team boss on an interim basis while also overseeing Bolivian first-division club Wilstermann. Villegas is considered a strong candidate to take over duties permanently but the Bolivian federation admitted recently that they are also looking at Argentina's Banfield manager Gustavo Quinteros, who has managed several clubs in Bolivia. At the moment, the Bolivians are slated to travel to Saudi Arabia for a friendly next month against them. It also helps that Bolivian icon Marco Etcheverry, manager at club Oriente Petrolero, has agreed to join the management team of Bolivia's under-15 side in hopes of revamping the country's youth system. With current DC United player Jaime Moreno rumored to possibly continue his career in Bolivia next season as he's seen as surplus to requirements in the U.S. capital, Bolivia are in good hands to begin their regrouping under the direction of two legends, should Moreno choose to play and possibly stay in Bolivia.
What do you think of the moves? See any positive signs in the five sides that didn't qualify to South Africa this year? Which South American side to you hope the U.S. plays? Share your thoughts below.