With the margins tight in the race for the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification spots, Thursday could turn out to be an important day in the standings, as six of the top seven teams entering Matchday 13 square off against each other.
Colombia is the lone outlier of the group on Thursday, as it has an easier task at hand at home against Bolivia. Los Cafeteros open up the five-game slate and could see themselves vault to as high as third if the results in the following matches go their way.
The marquee clashes of the round come from Montevideo and Buenos Aires, where Uruguay and Argentina host Brazil and Chile, respectively.
Here’s a look at each of Thursday’s five CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying matches:
Colombia vs. Bolivia (4:30 p.m. ET, beIN Sports)
Colombia has the most to gain of the World Cup contenders on Thursday given the matchup it has in Barranquilla against ninth-place Bolivia. The match against the struggling nation comes at a perfect juncture in the tournament for Colombia as it enters 2017 with a three-game winless run in World Cup qualifying. A win could bounce Colombia as far up as third place, but at the very least, it will hand it some momentum ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Quito. As for Bolivia, it’s all about playing spoiler to potential World Cup bids at this time. However, earning even a point on the road will be a tough task.
Paraguay vs. Ecuador (7 p.m. ET)
Paraguay stumbled into the new year with defeats at the hands of Peru and Bolivia. The pair of losses dropped Paraguay down to seventh in the table with 15 points, and now it is almost desperation time for Francisco Arse’s men. With a rather unfriendly schedule that features road trips to Brazil, Chile and Colombia ahead, La Albirroja must take points out of Ecuador at home in Asuncion.
Ecuador enters Matchday 13 in third place with 20 points, three points back of second-place Uruguay. La Tricolor strung together four wins in a row to start World Cup qualifying, with two of those victories coming on the road. Since the November 17, 2015 triumph over Venezuela in Ciudad Guyana, Ecuador hasn’t picked up a road win. That could bode well for the home side in this match.
Uruguay vs. Brazil (7 p.m. ET, beIN Sports)
The marquee matchup of the round pits first against second in Montevideo, as Brazil visits Uruguay. Brazil has built a comfortable four-point lead over its closest competitor, and it has two home games in a row after Thursday’s trip to Uruguay that could solidify its spot atop the CONMEBOL table. Brazil also boasts the best defensive record in CONMEBOL, as it is the only side to concede less than 10 goals to date.
A win by Uruguay would make things much more interesting in the fight for first place, and it is certainly capable of knocking off the first-place team in the region. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez scored a goal each in Uruguay’s 2-2 draw in Recife with Brazil on Matchday 5. Cavani is currently the top scorer in the competition with eight goals.
Argentina vs. Chile (7:30 p.m. ET)
The other important top-five clash in CONMEBOL on Thursday night comes from Buenos Aires, as fifth-place Argentina takes on fourth-place Chile. Argentina sputtered during the back end of 2016, with disappointing draws against Venezuela and Peru and a home loss to Paraguay. Luckily the Albiceleste righted the ship on Matchday 12 with a 3-0 win over Colombia, but there is still work to be done to feel comfortable about qualification.
Chile hasn’t lost in its last three World Cup qualifiers, with a 3-1 win over Uruguay in November that was powered by two second-half goals from Alexis Sanchez. The Chileans will also be looking for a little bit of revenge after dropping a 2-1 result to Argentina in Santiago on Matchday 5.
Venezuela vs. Peru (7:30 p.m. ET)
The last four CONMEBOL qualifying matches involving Venezuela has seen a clean sheet on one end, with three of the four being a shutout of the Venezuelan attack. Venezuela thumped Bolivia 5-0 on November 11, but that’s been the only true bright spot for the squad since it made some noise at the Copa America Centenario.
Peru showed its mettle on the road in Matchday 11 with a 4-1 victory in Asuncion over Paraguay, and it predictably stumbled at home against Brazil to conclude the 2016 schedule. The eighth-place side in the standings needs three points to hold on to hope of sneaking into the top five. The two teams drew 2-2 in Lima in their first match of the qualifying tournament.