South American (CONMEBOL) World Cup qualifying (part 3).

The coming international double header may provide the opportunity for some countries to move ahead and away from the pack.  Uruguay and Argentina have only one game to play but as home ties should feel confident in extending their lead at the top of the table to 10 points.

However with Venezuela and Ecuador close behind and benefiting from two games they could overtake the current leaders and favourites.

 

Saturday June 2nd

Uruguay v Venezuela

Bolivia v Chile

Argentina v Ecuador

Sunday June 3rd

Peru        v   Colombia

Saturday June 9th

Bolivia   v Paraguay

Venezuela     v Chile

Sunday June 10th

Ecuador v Colombia

Venezuela faces a tough trip to Montevideo followed by a home tie versus Chile. La Vinotinto (The Burgundy) have never qualified for a World Cup but are currently enjoying their most successful period. After a best ever 4rth position in last year’s Copa America they now lay 3rd after 4 games.

With most of their players now playing in Europe Venezuela has a strong squad which includes the likes of Juan Arango (Borussia Mönchengladbach), José Salomón Rondón (Malgaga) and Nicolas Fedor (Getafe) in attack.

Allied to this they have an imposing centre half duo in Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Club America), who scored the only goal in their last competitive match against Bolivia in November and veteran José Manuel Rey (Deportivo Lara).

Venezuela vs Bolivia (November 2011)

Indeed ring rustiness may be a factor in Venezuela’s coming games as they have only played friendly games this year and with mixed results (defeats against Spain, Costa Rica, the USA , Mexico and one win against Moldova).

These two difficult games will go a long way to determining Venezuela’s qualification even at this relatively early stage.

QUALIFICATION CURRENT STANDINGS

Team                    P              W            D             L              GF          GA          Pts

Uruguay               3              2              1              0              9              3             7

Argentina            4              2              1              1              7              4             7

Venezuela            4              2              1              1              3              3            7

Ecuador                3              2              0              1              5              2             6

Chile                      4              2               0              2              7            10           6

Colombia              3              1              1              1              4              4             4

Paraguay              4              1              1              2              3              6              4

Peru                       3              1              0              2              4              6              3

Bolivia                  4                0              1              3              4              8              1

It’s hard to imagine a World Cup without Argentina and without the unnerving influence of Diego Maradona this time, La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue) should easily qualify for Brazil. Despite a disappointing World Cup and an even more disappointing Copa America on home soil, Argentina currently have a side to match any on the planet.

Captain and current World player of the year Lionel Messi again has had an impressive season with Barcelona. Although he has not managed to win any major trophies this year his goal tally has reached an unmatched 73 in all competitions. It only remains to see if he can replicate his club form as so far for Argentina he has largely disappointed.

Lionel Messi

With a triumvirate of Messi, Kun Aguero (Man City) and Higuaín (Real Madrid) and back-up in Tevez (Man City), Lavezzi (Napoli) or Milito (Inter) it is hard to match the attacking potency of Argentina.

Similarly in midfield Di Maria (Real Madrid), Pastore(PSG) Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool) have the guile and creativeness to create while Mascherano (Barcelona) and Cambiasso (Inter) can provide the defensive cover for the likes of Burdisso (Roma) and Zabaleta (Man City).

Argentina must keep pace with leaders Uruguay and can ill afford another slip up at home alike against Bolivia in November. Too many home draws could mean all the difference in a tight qualifying group especially when the still have to visit the oxygen starved Andean nations.

 

 

 

 

 


More than a Fro – CARLOS “El Pibe” VALDERRAMA

Few people would have forgotten Carlos Valderrama and his appearance in 3 World Cups for Colombia. His trademark blonde afro made him one of the most recognisable World footballers in the 1990’s but his extravagant appearance belied his immense footballing ability.

Valderrama captained Colombia during their golden period in which they qualified for 3 World Cups (1994, 1998 and 2000) and boosted their FIFA rankings to as high as 4rth place in 1996. In this time Columbia also claimed two 3rd places in the Copa America and qualified in 1st place in the CONMEBAL 1994 World Cup qualifiers (courtesy of a historic 5-0 triumph over Argentina, in Buenos Aires).

This was in no small part due to their captain who had the ability to control the midfield with skill and inventiveness rather than violence and aggression. His lilting runs and deft passes opened many defences and supplied chances to the likes of Valencia and Asprilla. Although not a proficient goal-scorer Valderrama was also an accomplished free kick taker and assisted many of Colombia’s and his various domestic team’s goals.

You can watch Valderrama’s labyrinthine displays on youtube, where with deft touches he seems to glide past midfielders and defenders alike. For me he was similar to Ruud Gullit all being with a more languid, relaxed style and usually positioned in a deeper lying position. He also appeared to be strong in possession and difficult to harass.

However it was his passing ability that really attracted admiration. His slide rule short layoffs and through balls to the attack were executed with pin point precision. He seemed to be the creative focus of the team with the entire attacking force flowing throw his neat interlinking one twos.

During his lengthy career he blessed pitches in South America, where he won South American player of the year twice (1987, 1993), Europe (Montpellier) and a fledgling MLS (Tampa Bay, Colorado Rapids) but it is with Colombia that he is best remembered.

Although christened “El Pibe” or the Kid, Valderrama was not a child prodigy and had to wait until he was 24 for his first cap. Even then it was in a 2-0 defeat to Paraguay. Despite this inauspicious start Valderrama quickly cemented his place in the squad and later became captain at age 26. Under his command Colombia claimed 3rd place in the Copa America in 1987 then qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1962.

Colombia were grouped with the United Arab Emirates, Yugoslavia and West Germany and were not expected to progress out of the group. They started their tournament with a 2-0 defeat of a limited but determined UAE. Valderrama had controlled the midfield without impressing or meeting his pre-tournament expectations. In 85 minutes he finally announced his attendance with measured shot from 30 yards low past the stretching Arabian keeper to double his countries lead.

A disappointing 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia meant that Colombia were looking at an early flight home unless they could muster a result against a strong West Germany. Colombia struggled against a typically pragmatic and defensive German side but matched them until 88 minutes when Pierre Littbarksi smashed past a confused Rene Higuita. As the game tailed to the final whistle Valderrama conjured up one final piece of magic to slide through to Freddy Rincon who nutmegged Bodo Ilgner for the equaliser. It was a vital goal as the extra point ensured Colombia’s progress as a best 3rd place qualifier.

Their reward was a last 16 match against Cameroon and Roger Milla. Again Colombia suffered from their goalkeeper’s slackness when “El Loco” was robbed of possession far from his goal. Milla needed only to roll the ball into a gaping net to secure the win and the Columbian’s elimination.

Columbia’s World Cup 1994 will always be remembered for the death of Andres Escobar as a supposed punishment for his own goal against the United States. It is still unclear whether his assailant had sick retribution in mind when he gunned down Escobar or if it was more a reflection of the Uber- violent times of a post Pablo Escobar Colombia.

Nevertheless, the death of his close friend had a profound effect on Valderrama who later said;

“It’s very difficult for me to talk about him, ‘It’s very painful. He was very close to me. We were very good friends, very good friends. That has been my worst experience playing the sport.”

Colombia 1994 World Cup team

The World Cup USA was a disaster for Colombia. Before the tournament they were being touted as genuine favourites especially as they had topped the CONMEBAL qualifying table above Argentina. But they failed to meet expectations.

A 3-1 humbling to Romania was followed by the 2-1 loss the USA and while they beat Switzerland 2-0 it was not enough and they were eliminated bottom of Group A.

France 98 was to prove not much better for Valderrama. At 37 and now plying his trade for Miami Fusion in the MLS “El Pibe” was in the twilight of his career along with many of his team-mates. The Colombian squad look aged, tired and probably still shaken from the Andres Escobar experience in France.

As captain of his national team in 3 World Cups Valderrama could count himself with a very elite group of men but even this could not inspire his team to success.  Again Romania triumphed over Colombia, although this time 1-0, and an unimpressive 1-0 victory over Tunisia left Columbia needing to beat England to claim 2nd place.

Despite only needing a draw the English easily overcame the Colombians 2-0 through Anderton and Beckham sending Colombia home again at the group stage and ending Carlos Valderrama’s international career.

With 111 games (11 goals) he became Colombia’s most capped and greatest ever player and his career was further recognised in 1998 when Pele named him as one of the top players of the century and FIFA.

Valderrama ended his competitive playing career in 2004 with a star-studded tribute match that included the likes of Enzo Francescoli, Diego Maradona, Eric Cantona, Jorge Campos, and Iván Zamorano.

South American giants sneak into Copa Libertadores semi finals

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Universidad de Chile moved into the Copa Libertadores last 4 by overcoming La Libertad 5-3 on penalties. Despite going ahead through a Marcelo Diaz daisy cutter, free-kick on 18 minutes, Universidad gifted La Libertad an equalizer 4 minutes later with a Osvaldo Gonzalez own goal. In the end the Chileans had to depend on their keeper, Johhny Herrara to ensure their progress. Herrara pulled off a number of vital saves during normal time before saving Ayala’s decisive penalty.

 

As current Copa Suda-America champions Universidad de Chile are not exactly underdogs but they are not as recognisable as their semi-final counterparts.  Chile are now paired with Buenos Aires giants Boca Juniors who overcame Fluminense 2-1 on aggregate.

Leading 1-0 from the first leg Boca surrendered their lead early in the first half when a deflected free kick squirmed into the bottom left hand corner. With game moving towards penalties it was Boca’s veteran and talisman Juan Ramon Riquelme that provided the inspiration with a weighted lob on to Rivero who shot low against the post. The Fluminense keeper, Diego twice managed to claw the ball away from the goal but could do nothing about Santiago Silva as he slotted home form 10 yards.

In the other semi-final Santos and Corinthians will battle out for Brazilian superiority and a final berth ensuring a Brazilian team will be in the final for the 8th consecutive year.

Knowing they had to overturn a 1-0 deficit to progress Santos struggled to break down a dogged Velez Sarzfield defence even after the Argentinians lost their keeper, Marcelo Bavovero to a straight red on 40 minutes. It was a needless challenge on Neymar who needed no greater invitation to go sprawling to the floor. The Brazilians finally levelled the tie through Alan Kardec tehn triumphed in the penalty shoot-out.

In the remaining tie Corinthians also left it late against country men Vasco de Gama. The tie was delicately poised at 0-0 from the first leg and sliding towards extra time when Paulinho headed in an Alez cross to send the Brazilian giants through.

Copa Libertadores semifinal schedule:

1st leg – 12th June

 Boca Juniors v Universidad de Chile

Santos v Corinthians

2nd leg – 20th June 

 Universidad de Chile v Boca Juniors

 Corinthians v Santos

FIDEL MARTINEZ GOES TO THE DOGS

In a surprising move Fidel Martinez has opted to move to join Mexican Primera Division side, Tijuana or Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente to give them their full name.

Martinez or the “Ecuadorian Neymar” has impressed in this year’s Copa Libertadores with his marauding runs down Deportivo Quito’s left hand side. An impressive performance against Chivas Guadalajara of Mexico, where he also chipped in with a goal, may have alerted Tijuana to his abilities.

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The left footer has made solid progress since an unsuccessful spell for Cruzeiro (Brazil) early in his career and since then has scored 12 goals with many more assists, in 50 games for Deportivo Quito.

However, this form has not been rewarded with an inclusion in next week’s World Cup Qualifying squad.

Personally, I thought Martinez was capable of playing in stronger league than Mexico, which although stronger than Ecuador’s Serie A is still far from the top 8 leagues in Europe. In addition, Tijuana is a new team having only been founded 5 years ago and recently promoted last year.

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TIJUANA’S BADGE MUST BE THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS

 

Los Perros Aztecos (The Aztec Dogs) seem to have great ambition and they are recruiting many players to play in their impressive new, Estadio Caliente.

An impressive 6th position overall in last season’s Clausura bodes well for the northern Mexican team but it will be extremely difficult to compete with the likes of Cruz Azul, Monterrey, Chivas and America in the long term (although Santos and Tigres are currently bucking the trend as Champions).

Martinez should be rewarded with national team inclusion in the future especially with so many Ecuadorians plying their trade in Mexico but I can’t help feeling this is a move sideways rather than forward.

He definitely has the ability to play in France, Holland or Italy which could have acted as a stepping stone to La Liga, the Bundesliga or the Premier League. However aged only 22 he still has a huge amount of time to compete in Europe.

The  Xoloitzcuintli are a rare breed of Mexican hairless dog which were rescued from extinction in the 1950’s. Wild versions are sometimes misidentified as the Chupacabra.

Reinaldo Rueda names his squad for Ecuadors double header.

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There were no major surprises in Reinaldo Rueda’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying games. The attacking line will consist of players plying their trade in Mexico’s Premier Liga while Antonio Valencia, Renato Ibarra,Christian Noboa and Jefferson Montero provide the European experience after long seasons abroad.

 

 

 

Ecuadorian Squad for games against Argentina away (02/06/2012) and Columbia home (10/06/2012).

Goalkeepers

 Maximum Banguera (Barcelona) Adrian Bone (Deportivo Quito) Alexander Dominguez (Liga de Quito).

Defenders

Gabriel Achilier (Emelec) Walter Ayovi (Monterrey, Mexico), Diego Calderon (Liga Quito) Jairo Campos (Barcelona) Giovanni Espinoza (Deportivo Quito) Jorge Guagua (Atlante, Mexico) Juan Carlos Paredes (Deportivo Quito) Frickson Erazo (Barcelona).

 

 

MIDFIELDERS

Segundo Castillo (Pachuca, Mexico) Renato Ibarra (Vitesse, Netherlands) Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA-USA) Jefferson Montero (Villarreal, Spain) Cristhian Noboa (Dynamo-Russia) Pedro Quinonez (Emelec) Luis Saritama (Deportivo Quito), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, England) Edison Mendez (LDU Quito).

 

Forwards

 Jaime Ayovi (Pachuca, Mexico) Christian Benítez (America-Mexico) Joao Rojas (Morelia, Mexico) Christian Suarez (Santos-Mexico).

 

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Independiente keep the dream alive but Liga de Loja step up.

  

 Independiente hammered Olmedo 3 – 0 at the weekend to halt their mini slump and prelong their stay at the top of the table, if only by goal difference.  The team from Sangolqui then watched Liga de Quito fall to 5th place to be replaced by Liga de Loja.

 

 

photo courtesy of Futbolecuador.

  The rest of the championship competitors also recorded wins to leave the standings in much the same state as last week. 

Deportivo Cuenca   0 – 0 Liga de Quito

El Nacional      1 – 1   Manta

Barcelona            4 – 1   Macara

Independiente  3 – 0 Olmedo

Universitario   2 – 3   Emelec

                      Liga de Loja     1 – 0  Deportivo Quito

Unfortunatley I did’nt manage to get to a game this as i was nursing a hangover on Sunday after watching the Scottish Cup final and the Champions League final on Saturday.

There are mid-week fixtures tomorow and  hopefully I will be able to attend the Nacional vs Macara game. After that there is an International break when Ecuador will play Argentina away then Columbia at home.

Independiente slip up again but still lead.

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Independiente slipped up again this weekend but still manage to hold on to 1st place. Los negriazules (The black and blues)were thumped 3-0 by Manta giving Liga, Emelec and Barcelona the chance to catch up.

The Guayquil clubs siezed their chanceby claiming the full 3 points but Liga de Quito drew again in the Casa Blanca leaving them 1 point behind.

For many the Independiente result is a sign that the young team is feeling the pace and pressure. With the league moving into the final stages experience may be the most important factor for the champions.

Hopefully Independiente will keep their unlikely dream alive and use the Manta defeat as a wake up call for the remainder of the season.

Image Photo courtesy of FutbolEcuador

Deportivo Quito do not have problems to seek after last Thursday’s disaster in Santiago. The Copa Libertadores humbling was seemingly too much to take for the clubs directors so they dually fired their Argentinian coach, Carlos Ischia.  The former Boca Juniors manager has not set the heather alight since his appointment last year and the Ecuadorian champions currently lag behind in 7th place. This together with Ischia’s recent criticisms of the board led his premature departure despite their being a Quito derby with El Nacional today.

 

League standings 15/05/2012

#                            Team                           MP                       GD          P

1                              Independiente       15                       +6           26

2                              LDU Quito             15                           +12          25

3                              Emelec                   14                            +11         25

4                              Barcelona              15                            +11         25

5                              LDU Loja               14                              +2           23

6                              Dep Cuenca           15                              -4            23

7                              Dep Quito               14                             +7           18

8                              Manta                       15                            -1            17

9                              Macará                      15                            -4            17

10                             El Nacional            14                            -9            16

11                             Universitario         15                            -9            12

12                             Olmedo                     15                           -22          8

This week’s results have created a split within the league with Independiente, Liga, Barcelona, Emelec’ Loja and Deportivo Cuenca moving away from the rest.

However with only 3 points between 1st and 6th the championship is still wide open.