The two teams with the worst odds in Group A, Chile and Colombia, face a very slim chance of making it out of their group. Uruguay’s World Cup chances are looking better than ever as they have been given an early lifeline by being drawn into far easier side.
Brazil and Argentina have already qualified for the World Cup in Qatar after crossing the finish line in South America’s World Cup qualifiers. Ecuador will shortly follow suit, barring a mathematical blunder. In the next last two rounds, it is probably conceivable for two teams to come up to Ecuador’s total of 25 points. However, at least one of those teams would have to overcome Ecuador’s goal differential of more than ten goals.
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Ecuador seems to be acting like a squad that has already qualified for the World Cup. On Thursday, they will play Paraguay. They host Argentina in the last round on Tuesday, but have decided to play the match at sea level in Guayaquil rather than at the height of their typical mountain stronghold in Quito. Ecuador’s message, therefore, is that they are already preparing for the World Cup rather than racing for points to assure their inclusion in Qatar.
|Brazil is ranked first (Q)||15||39||+27|
|Argentina is ranked number two (Q)||15||35||+16|
|Ecuador is number three.||16||25||+10|
|Uruguay is ranked fourth.||16||22||-3|
|5 – Peru||16||21||-4|
|6 – Chile||16||19||-1|
|Colombia is ranked number seven.||16||17||-3|
|Bolivia (number 8)||16||15||-12|
|Paraguay is ranked 9th in the world.||16||13||-14|
|Venezuela is number ten.||16||10||-16|
|1-4: Qualifies for the playoffs; 5: Playoffs|
That leaves two spots open: one automatic qualifying spot and a play-off spot for the fifth-placed team, which will face Asia’s representative in June. Four countries are vying for these two places with one hand on the calculator and the other on the cardiologist’s phone number, in varying degrees of urgency. Colombia is the worst case scenario. They have gone seven games without scoring, an almost unfathomable run of offensive ineptitude from a squad with plenty of quality.
On Thursday, in Bolivia, that streak should come to an end. This is normally the ‘home banker’ match. At the great altitude of La Paz, Bolivia picks up practically all of its points at home. They’re known for being sluggish when traveling. They had two ties and six losses in their road games this season, scoring just six goals and allowing 25. As a result, it is the time for Colombia to fill their boots. The issue is that it may already be too late. Colombia is the clear favorite to defeat Bolivia, and will go to Venezuela next Tuesday expecting to win. Even if they finish the season with two victories, they will still be reliant on other factors. A total of 23 points is unlikely to be sufficient.
Colombia’s hopes for Qatar are in jeopardy, while Uruguay has it. Getty Images/ANDRES CUENCA/POOL/AFP
What is true for Colombia is likewise true for Chile. There is just one chance for Chile to surpass the 23-point mark: by achieving something that no other team has ever done before. Of course, Brazil has lost World Cup matches at home. Last year, they were eliminated from the Copa America in Rio de Janeiro. However, they have never lost a World Cup qualifier as hosts, a record they want to keep on Thursday night in Rio. True, there are a few people who aren’t in Brazil. With the exclusion of left defender Alex Sandro, they can deploy their first-choice defensive unit, which hasn’t conceded a goal in a long time. Up front, Neymar will be relieved of the demands of Paris Saint-Germain, and there are a number of players whose World Cup participation is in jeopardy, including the recalled Richarlison, the rookie Gabriel Martinelli, and others.
Chile has a monumental challenge ahead of it. The stakes couldn’t possibly be much greater. The game on Thursday might basically put a stop to the great generation’s international ambitions, which began with the 2007 Under-20 process. Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Claudio Bravo, and Mauricio Isla would all be out if they didn’t make it to Qatar. A last-minute difficulty has developed for Sanchez and Vidal. After testing positive for the coronavirus, their Internazionale colleagues Lautaro Martinez of Argentina and Matias Vecino of Uruguay have been forced to sit out these matches. These will be anxious hours for two of Chile’s finest players, and it would be a tragedy if a positive COVID-19 test prevents them from competing at the Maracana.
To beat Brazil at home, Alexis Sanchez and Chile will need a tiny miracle. Getty Images/Javier Mamani
The undisputed tie of the round is Uruguay’s and Peru’s encounter in Montevideo, where fourth and fifth place are direct challengers for the one remaining automatic spot. Uruguay was concerned after losing four games in a row. However, two wins under new coach Diego Alonso have altered the landscape. If Chile fails to create history in Brazil by winning, Uruguay will qualify with a round to spare if it defeats Peru. Uruguay is the obvious favorite. Alonso has kept the ship afloat by finding methods to safeguard Diego Godin, his experienced captain, who is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. Ronald Araujo of Barcelona is a developing defensive powerhouse who will likely start at right back, with Jose Maria Gimenez adding additional speed on the left side.
Further forward, in front of their home crowd, Uruguay will unleash plenty of attacking power — Luis Suarez could be paired with Edinson Cavani or Darwin Nunez, while Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur will keep the midfield ticking over, and Facundo Pellistri and Giorgian De Arrascaeta will look to provide the creativity.
Uruguay has a squad with the resources to be a strong opponent in Qatar if everyone is healthy. Of course, they must first secure their position. This game’s outcome would not have been in any question only a few years ago. Peru’s economy would eventually collapse. Their away record was something out of the pit of nightmares before coach Ricardo Gareca took charge. They only achieved one draw and 16 losses between 2010 and 2014, scoring 11 goals and conceding 46. This decade’s pre-Gareca record was two victories, six ties, and 27 losses, with 22 goals scored and 78 goals surrendered. The quality of the players has not improved much. Gareca, on the other hand, has shaped them into a tenacious unit capable of achieving success despite adversity.
Their last-gasp 1-0 victory against Colombia in late January may turn out to be the most crucial outcome of the season. To keep Uruguay at away, Peru will have to dig even deeper. Even if Thursday goes horribly, everything is not lost. Peru will visit Paraguay on Tuesday, and unless Chile pulls off a miracle against Brazil, a victory in that game will be enough for Peru to secure a place in the play-offs, just like they did on their way to Russia 2018.