Monday, July 21, 2008

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update (Part 2)

It's now time for Part 2 of our comprehensive update looking at the World Cup qualifiers that which took place during May and June. Having dealt with the African section last week, we now turn our attention to what's happening in…

South America

Once again, all ten South American teams play each other twice in a single big round robin group. When all the dust has settled, the top four teams go through to South Africa 2010 while the fifth-place team goes into a home-and-away play-off with the 4th placed team in the North and Central America section.

During June 2008, the national teams of South America entered battle once again for the first time since November 2007. When play came to a temporary halt seven months previously, the group table looked like this…

As you can see, Paraguay had a narrow lead over the chasing pack of three teams, but what was apparent from this early stage was that none of the ten taking part had managed to keep a 100% record after just four games. Such inconsistency would be a continuing theme throughout the June double header, especially on the part of those three teams trailing Paraguay at the top - Argentina, Brazil, Colombia.

Paraguay showed they meant business with a 2-0 win over Brazil on June 15th, the goals scored by Roque Santa Cruz and Salvador Cabanas. Brazil were sorely lacking the ingenuity and skill of Kaka, was recovering from recent ankle surgery, while Ronaldinho's current lack of form didn't help the five-time world champions either.

Paraguay, on the other hand, seemed much more capable of taking the game to their opponents, although defender Dario Veron nearly jeopardised their position when he got sent off for a second bookable offence after the second goal went in. The home side, however, held on and were no doubt delighted to see their lead at the top of the table grow to three points when Argentina could only draw 1-1 against Ecuador.

Alfio Basile's men almost came a cropper against the Ecuadorians and were it not for Rodrigo Palacio's equaliser four minutes into injury time at the end of the game, Argentina would have suffered their first defeat in a qualifying match since 1993.

As it is, they should have wrapped the game up much earlier. Though lacking any real spark, the Argentineans had plenty of chances to score but failed to hit the back of the net. Ecuador, meanwhile, managed to bide their time well and when Joffre Guerron and Carlos Tenorio linked up skilfully to set up Patricio Urrutia, the away side found themselves 1-0 up.

Sadly for them, Argentina never gave up and Ecuador's goal only served to wake them up when they most needed to. Finally when Ecuador appeared to have done enough to hang on for an historic win, goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri launched a long goal kick which beat their defence and landed neatly for Palacio who promptly scored. Argentina had survived but Paraguay were now further ahead in the group.

Elsewhere on Matchday 5, Colombia leapfrogged Brazil into third place with a 1-1 draw against lowly Peru while Chile beat bottom-placed Bolivia 2-0. Uruguay and Venezuela completed a trio of 1-1 draws in Montevideo to ensure the middle order stayed much as it was.

Three days later, Matchday 6 threw up a few surprises. For a start, Paraguay lost their first match of the campaign against a Bolivian side that had lost four of its first five games. Once more, the issue of altitude came to the fore as Paraguay looked a shadow of the team that had recently beaten Brazil 2-0, but the pitch in La Paz was also a hindrance as Bolivia took control of the game.

Two goals in three minutes from Joaquin Botero and Ronald Garcia meant the home side were nicely settled after half an hour and Paraguay seemed stunned. No reply of any sort came until the 66th minute when Santa Cruz scored for the second successive match, but even then the Bolivians hit back hard with another brace, this time scored in a seven minute spell thanks to Botero (again) and Marcelo Martins.

The Paraguayans scored a consolation goal through Nelson Valdez eight minutes from time, but by that stage they were well and truly beaten. Lucky for them, perhaps, that two of the teams trying to catch them up in the group, Brazil and Argentina could only draw 0-0 in Belo Horizonte.

Though Argentina played the better football, they were forced to settle for a second draw on-the-trot while Brazil also suffered a second consecutive game without a win - a fact not appreciated by their home fans who jeered throughout the contest and even applauded Lionel Messi when he was substituted late on.

That result meant Chile were able to take fourth place in the group above Brazil thanks to a 3-2 away win against Venezuela. A ding-dong battle resulted in all five goals being scored in the last 35 minutes, the first of which went to Chile's Humberto Suazo from the penalty spot before Venezuela's Giancarlo Maldonaldo equalised five minutes later.

Gonzalo Jara got on the end of a Chilean free kick to put his side back in the lead with 17 minutes remaining, but Juan Arango squeezed home another equaliser seven minutes later. Venezuela pressed hard for a goal to give them the lead late on, but it was Suazo again who claimed all three points for Chile two minutes into stoppage time with a low, accurate shot.

So, Chile now find themselves level on points with third-placed Colombia who could only manage a 0-0 draw away to Ecuador. Brazil are also now feeling the heat from Uruguay, whose 6-0 home thrashing of Peru means they're just a point behind the 2002 world champions, too.

What next for Brazil, then? Ah yes - a nice trip to Santiago on September 7th to play in-form Chile. That should be nice… A day before that, the top two are in action as Argentina play host to Paraguay while Uruguay hope to catch the Brazilians by beating Colombia in a tough match in Bogota.

We'll have all the news on that in about six weeks time, but we'll be back with our next continental round-up of all the recent World Cup qualifiers in a few days time as we turn our attention to the North and Central American Zone.


David said...

You mean "2002 world champions", not 2006.

Chris O said...

Sorry - you're quite right. My brain was thinking '2002' but my fingers were typing '2006'...

Thanks for pointing that out - it's now corrected!


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