CONMEBOL World Cup qualification is underway this week as South America’s finest fight it out on the road to Russia 2018.
Here’s our rundown of all the action in Thursday’s qualifiers:
Bolivia vs. Colombia
After taking the 2014 World Cup by storm, Colombia has come crashing back down to Earth and, like their opponent Bolivia, have only won one game in their current qualifying campaign. Last time out, Colombia fell 1-0 to a Lionel Messi-less Argentina. Like Real Madrid fans, Colombia boss Jose Pekerman will be looking for a big performance from James Rodriguez this time around. The breakout star of the last World Cup has gone off the boil for his club side and has failed to ignite his national team in qualifying. Currently, Colombia sits seventh in group standing – just one above Bolivia. Bolivia, too, will look to improve their fortunes after losing 1-2 to Paraguay back in November.
Ecuador vs. Paraguay
If there has been a surprise of the current round of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, it’s Ecuador. They head into Thursday’s clash with Paraguay with a 4-0-0 record, having taken maximum points so far. Their winning streak includes a 2-0 win over FIFA number two-ranked Argentina and 2-1 win over South American heavyweights, Uruguay. Last time out, Ecuador thrashed Venezuela 3-1 with goals coming from Fidel Martinez, Jefferson Montero and Felipe Caicedo. Ecuador will look to extend its impressive run with a win over a Paraguay side that currently sits fourth in the standings with a 2-1-1 record.
Chile vs. Argentina
The marquee matchup of the round sees last summer’s Copa America champions, Chile, taking on World Cup runner-ups, Argentina, at the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos in Santiago, Chile. Chile started their campaign strong with a 2-0 win against Brazil, followed by a 4-3 over Peru. However, they dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Colombia before capitulating in an embarrassing 0-3 loss to Uruguay in November. For Chile, it will be key to get Alexis Sanchez back firing on all cylinders. The Arsenal forward has struggled since returning from his most recent injury but along with midfielder, Arturo Vidal, is the man expected to provide the “x-factor” for his national side. Argentina, meanwhile, will welcome the return of Lionel Messi after the Barcelona talisman missed the opening four matches of qualification. With Messi restored to a lineup that already includes the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano, and Sergio Aguero, Argentina will be the heavy favorites as they go against the South American champions.
Peru vs. Venezuela
Finally, we’ll see the bottom two squads in the CONMEBOL qualifiers face off against one another as Peru welcomes Venezuela to the Estadio Nacional in Lima. Venezuela sit rock bottom with four losses in four previous match days. Last time out, the Venezuelans lost 3-1 to high-flying Ecuador. Meanwhile, Peru has managed a single victory: a 1-0 win over Paraguay last November – the singular goal from Jefferson Farfan. Peru boss Ricardo Gareca will be looking to the former Schalke midfielder along with veteran Bundesliga striker Claudio Pizarro to lift Peru over the badly foundering Venezuelans.