By JUSTIN FERGUSON
In a weekend filled with World Cup qualifiers all over the globe, the most intriguing matchup can be found in South America as CONMEBOL-leading Argentina hosts Venezuela.
Back in October, Venezuela got its first-ever win over Argentina, a 1-0 home victory that gave the country its first points in the qualifying process for the 2014 World Cup.
Since that historic result in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela has captured nine more points in qualifying, enough to put La Vinotinto to fourth in the CONMEBOL table—the final World Cup spot for the South American federation.
Venezuela will look to grab another result against Argentina on Friday on the road to what could be the country’s first World Cup appearance. But the squad will have to do it without Fernando Amorebieta, the Athletic Bilbao central defender who scored the game-winner in October’s win.
Argentina, which has gone undefeated in seven straight qualifying matches since the October loss, looks prepared to exact revenge on Venezuela in Friday’s match. Alejandro Sabella’s squad, led by Lionel Messi, averages a little over two goals per match in qualifying. However, La Albiceleste will be without two of its regular starters—Sergio Aguero is out due to injury while Angel Di Maria serves a suspension.
In Europe, many eyes will be on Israel as Portugal visits Ramat Gan Stadium. Portugal has not won a match since September’s 3-0 victory over lowly Azerbaijan. Both Portugal and Israel are currently tied at seven points in UEFA’s Group Six table, sitting behind a 4-0-0 Russia. Portugal needs to overcome a mediocre run of form if it wants to get back in the hunt for World Cup qualification. Paulo Bento’s squad has lost to Ecuador and drawn with Gabon since the last round of qualifying.
Here is a closer look at the rest of this weekend’s World Cup qualifying action:
Sweden will look to hold onto second place in Group Three on Friday when it hosts third-place Ireland. The Irish will miss experienced defender Richard Dunne when they try to handle Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they will be boosted in attack by the return of captain Robbie Keane, who sat out Ireland’s last friendly. It will be interesting to see who Giovanni Trapattoni decides to start in Friday’s match as the Ireland manager has spent most of the week dealing with the backlash from dropping Kevin Doyle via text message.
While most of UEFA’s group leaders—Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia—have favorable matchups this weekend, Group Seven’s surprise leader will face its second-place opponent for full control of the table. Bosnia-Herzegovina, led by Manchester City super substitute Edin Dzeko, has scored 15 goals and allowed only two en route to an undefeated record in qualifying. The offensive-minded group leaders will host the stout defense of Greece, which has only allowed one goal in qualifying.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s qualifiers in UEFA, sorted by group:
Croatia vs. Serbia
Macedonia vs. Belgium
Scotland vs. Wales
Bulgaria vs. Malta
Czech Republic vs. Denmark
Kazakhstan vs. Germany
Austria vs. Faroe Islands
Sweden vs. Ireland
Andorra vs. Turkey
Hungary vs. Romania
Netherlands vs. Estonia
Slovenia vs. Iceland
Norway vs. Albania
Israel vs. Portugal
Luxembourg vs. Azerbaijan
Northern Ireland vs. Russia
Lichtenstein vs. Latvia
Slovakia vs. Lithuania
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Greece
Moldova vs. Montenegro
Poland vs. Ukraine
San Marino vs. England
Spain vs. Finland
France vs. Georgia
Cyprus vs. Switzerland
After starting qualifying with three wins and two draws, fifth-place Uruguay has not won in its last four WCQ matches. La Celeste was outscored 12-2 in those four matches after outscoring opponents 14-4 in its first five. Fortunately for international goalscoring machine Luis Suarez and the rest of Oscar Tabarez’s squad, Friday’s meeting with last-place Paraguay is at home, where the side is undefeated during qualifying. Despite being in last place in CONMEBOL qualifying, Paraguay has won its last three straight matches, including two friendlies against CONCACAF sides. The two sides drew 1-1 in their first meeting, which ended with a Richard Ortiz stoppage-time equalizer.
Third-place Colombia, which has a match in hand on idle Ecuador, will look to reclaim the second spot in the table with a win over a hot Bolivia squad. Colombia has allowed the least amount of goals in qualifying, and it will need its defense to be stout on Friday in order to slow down Bolivia. La Verde scored four goals against Uruguay in its last qualifier, keeping the country’s World Cup hopes alive.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s qualifiers in CONMEBOL:
Colombia vs. Bolivia
Uruguay vs. Paraguay
Argentina vs. Venezuela
Peru vs. Chile
Group C leader Ivory Coast will take on last-place Gambia without captain Didier Drogba this weekend. Manager Sabri Lamouchi told reporters earlier this week that he dropped Drogba due to concerns over form, but some speculate that this move could be a way of preparing Les Elephants for a future without their star forward.
Nigeria will also be without its key attacker this weekend. The 2013 AFCON champions and Group F leaders will take on Kenya without Emmanuel Emenike. The Spartak Moscow striker, who won the Golden Boot in the Super Eagles’ AFCON win, is still out with a hamstring injury suffered during last month’s continental competition.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s qualifiers in CAF, sorted by group:
South Africa vs. Central African Republic
Tunisia vs. Sierra Leone
Ivory Coast vs. Gambia
Congo vs. Gabon
Burkina Faso vs. Niger
Namibia vs. Malawi
Nigeria vs. Kenya
Cameroon vs. Togo
Senegal vs. Angola
Ethiopia vs. Botswana
Equatorial Guinea vs. Cape Verde Islands
Tanzania vs. Morocco
Lesotho vs. Zambia
Ghana vs. Sudan
Mozambique vs. Guinea
Rwanda vs. Mali
Congo DR vs. Libya
Liberia vs. Uganda
Which World Cup qualifying matchup are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Argentina will handle Venezuela at home, or do you see another upset on the cards? How do you think Portgual will do in its crucial match in Israel?
Share your comments below.
I thought Egypt was playing this weekend in a WCQ. Was the game cancelled?
Apparently Egypt is a playing March 26 against Zimbabwe.
In other WCQ news, New Zealand won last night (2-1 over New Caledonia) to wrap up Oceania. They’ll meet 4th place CONCACAF in a playoff. If the USMNT doesn’t turn it around tonight, this may become very relevant news…
A New Zealand player got kicked full force in the head, almost identical to Demba Ba a few weeks ago, and also not even a yellow card or penalty shot.
Yeah, I saw that too. Ugly, ugly stuff. Hopefully Smeltz will be ok.
I thought Colcinni’s kick in the face that broke Demba Ba’s nose was criminal, especially under the circumstances playing at Newcastle with Ba being booed every time he touched the ball. But karma is sometimes powerful stuff and had the last say.
Israel should have won!!!! What a stupid gaffe at the end! still an excellent result!
Dude, how can you not talk up Peru-Chile game? Ives!
Israel and Portugal already tied 3-3
That’s the power of an Obama!
There is no doubt that Argentina will win!