For many Group B has claimed the title of “the Group of Death.
It certainly looks like that for the Ozzies.
Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
At first look it seems it will be a straight fight for the top spot for the two 2010 finalists : Spain and Holland but that is to severely underestimate Chile.
Chile had a very impressive qualifying campaign. Despite starting poorly they rallied to claim some impressive away wins which contributed to a 3rd place finish in the CONMEBOL table, ahead of both Ecuador and Uruguay.
In recent years they have garnered a lot of respect for their style of play, thanks mainly to a high pressing game (favoured by successful ex-coach Marco “Loco” Bielsa) that was introduced by Jorge Sampaoli. Although “La Roja” do not have the strength in depth of bigger South American nations they can count upon two fantastic forwards in Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona) and and Eduardo Vargas (Valencia). Added to this they have various layers dotted around Seria A and the EPL but their real strength comes from home based players which regularly compete with Universidad Catolica, Colo Colo and O’Higgins in latter stages of the Libertadores and Sudamerica.
For many Chile are this tournament’s dark horses if not for triumph but to reach at least the quarter finals. They will certainly need to be on form to beat either the Dutch or Spanish but it is not beyond them to take 1st spot in the group.
As a Liverpool fan I tend to see the best in Luis Suarez and forgive him for his indiscretions. There is no doubt he has been vilified by a calumniatory, English press but he doesn’t do himself any favours.
Last night, again, he was attracting headlines for the wrong reasons. Playing for Uruguay against Chile in a World Cup qualifier, Suarez responded to defender Gonzalo Jara’s attentions by jabbing him on the chin. Granted, it wasn’t a punch worthy of the ring but it should have deserved a red card.
The decision did not change the match as Chile battled to a deserved 2 – 0 victory over an unsteady Uruguay. Esteban Paredes opened the scoring in the 11th minute after some awful Uruguayan defending. Both Matias Aguirregaray and Alvaro Pereiraha had chances to clear the danger but only proceeded to gift Paredes his chance 5 yards out.
Eduardo Vargas sealed the win with 12 minutes remaining after some more shambolic play at the back by Uruguay. Matias Fernandez found Mauricio Isla with a defence splitting ball, Isla’s shot was then saved by Fernando Muslera but Vargas snatched to score while the defenders floundered.
After last week’s home draw against Paraguay, “La Celeste” are fumbling at a vital point in qualification. The Copa America holders will have to reverse their slide down the table if they want to repeat their impressive display in South Africa. Similarly, Chile have been erratic and find themselves in a 4/5th place battle after a strong start to their qualification campaign.
In Puerto Ordaz. The in-form Colombians tumbled to a surprise defeat against Venezuela. Salomon Rondon grabbed an early lead in the 13th minute and that was enough to win the match. Falcoa had some late chances and was denied an equaliser by the woodwork.
Despite the hiccup, Colombia are still in a good position for qualification while Venezuela need to secure a few more wins to ensure attendance at their first ever World Cup.
CONMEBOL has announced plans to have the 2016 Copa America outside of South America for the first time.
Not only will the competition be in the USA, it will also include Mexico and the USA as fixed competitors along with 4 further CONCACAF nations.
The South American association is celebrating it’s 100th year anniversary in 2016 and as such the competition has been named “the Copa America Centennial”.
A cynic may view this plan as shameless effort in cash grabbing or a riposte to UEFA’s expansion of the European Championships in the same year – France 2016 with 24 teams. Regardless it should attract more attention than usual, although in recent years the Central American teams invited have fared pretty poorly.
CONMEBOL also announced that Mexico and Japan will be invited to the next Copa America in 2015, in Chile.
Every time I make a visit to the Atahaulpa Stadium I can’t help but make comparisons with back home. My usual judgement is that Ecuadorians have it so much better than in Scotland or the UK.
There is no doubt that British stadiums are safer but there over-sterilisation and sanitisation has ruined many aspects of the modern game. Many stadiums are glorified cow-sheds, little more than four banks of seats into which fans are herded like sheep.
No more apparent than this is Hampden Park where the famous Hampden roar has been replaced by the Hampden moan or muffled groan.
Hampden Park got a £20 millon re-fit a number of years ago. The end result was: a dissipation of the noise, an athletics track separating the fans from the pitch by at least 10 metres, 70,000 fans became 50,000 and a severely diluted atmosphere.
The Atahaulpa has not been touched for 50 years and the atmosphere is electric. The capacity has been reduced to 35,000 recently and you have the athletics track but it doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm.
On Friday my Dutch friend and I made our way through the fans, police and many touts. After a couple of aborted entries we finally managed to reach the general area of our seats but not before buying beers at the back of the stadium. As the game was already 5 minutes old and we didn’t want to annoy the other patrons in that dreadful cinema like shuffle through the crowds we stayed-put, aside the beer stand.
Everyone in the back row of seats (which is really a long, concrete block) were standing for a better vantage point. Behind them was a line of Police, some with dogs, all with batons and behind the Police I stood with my friend.Both of us a good foot taller than the rest.
In the two hours we stood there sipping our beers not one Policeman or woman asked us to move, sit down or find our seats. We were causing no problem nor blocking access, simply watching the game so the authorities left us alone. (The only hairy moment was when one of the Police Alsatians started to attack an imaginary assailant. Many wide eyed fans turned and looked on fearing that it could cause some dreadful chain reaction of biting hounds.In the end the mutt was shepherded away to safety).
And therein lies the biggest difference between the match experience in Latin America and the United Kingdom.
In Scotland you are constantly harassed by over-blown security guards and zealous quasi-authorities either wanting you to sit-down, pipe down or calm down. Some luminous jacketed dolt, who was too fat to become a real policeman or too dim to secure a respected job has to use his/her two hours of authority to dampen your match day experience.
And its only the proper fan who rises to remonstrate at the referee or roar his football song that gets reprimanded. If a burly troglodyte is shouting abuse or sectarian or racist bile the security guards are nowhere to be seen. The cowards only admonish the normal fan, knowing fine they won’t receive a smack in the mouth or verbal tirade in response.
On Friday, the Chilean supporters were situated right beside us, numbering about 2-3000 and they regularly intermingled on their way to the toilet or to get some food or more beer. There was no cordon of yellow nor line of Police, even when Chile took the lead there was little more than muffled insults and derogatory, hand signals.
In the end Ecuador won 3 – 1 to bolster their qualification chances for Brazil 2014. As the Ecuadorian fans shuffled out of the stadium many insults were traded with the glum looking Chileans. The usual cries of “chuta- madre” and “hijo de la chingada” were exchanged along with self-explanatory gestures that even a nun would understand.
In Scotland you would be probably hauled off to the Chateau D’If for such “anti-social” behaviour.
Ecuadorian football may have many flaws but I’d have their match-days, any day compared to the over-priced and over- bearing experience of home. Football in Ecuador maybe like football in Scotland 30 years ago.
Not such a bad thing considering where we are as a football nation now.
Ecuador may go into Friday’s qualifier against Chile without their only true superstar and talisman, Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United winger is carrying an injury and it will be last minute race for his inclusion.
It’s hard to over-emphasis the dependency of Ecuador upon Valencia. Most of the national teams attacking play flow down the right wing and with Valencia’s bombing runs or link up play with Juan Carlos Paredes.
In last month’s qualifier, Bolivia doubled upped on Valencia neutralising his effect upon the game and it was a ploy that nearly got them a point. Chile should be more adventurous but still mindful of the Valencia effect.
Luckily “El Tri” has a relative amount of depth in their squad and Vitesse Arnhem’s; Renato Ibarra may be called upon to fill the void. Added to this Christian Noboa will return after suspension and livewire, Jefferson Montero comes back after pulling his hamstring versus Bolivia.
Ecuador is strong in midfield. Luis Saritama is a cultured “centro-campista” who has the ability to link midfield to attack well and spray incisive passes down the sides. Personally I feel he is underrated and overlooked.
Similarly Segundo Castillo and Oswaldo Minda are competent midfielders with experience abroad.
In attack Ecuador also have genuine quality. Christian Benitez is currently banging them in in Mexico for giants Club America. Hardly a week goes by without him claiming a goal in a strong national league. Although not tall by European standards Benitez has great strength and blistering speed.
In all likelihood he will be partnered by Felipe Caicedo, once of Manchester City. After a brief hiatus from the national team Caicedo has returned to claim two goals in the last two games: both penalties against Bolivia then Uruguay. The Barcelona partnership of Michael Arroyo and Narciso Mina should provide back up in attrack.
Ecuador’s one other injury problem is centre half Jairo Campo who has severely torn his Achilles and will sit out all football for at least two months. His omission is a blow for Ecuador as he is a dominant leader in defence but Jorge Guagua or Friksen Arazo should ably deputise for the games against Chile and Venezeula.
After a poor start, Colombia got their campaign back on track in dramatic fashion on Tuesday. Following on from their excellent 4 – 0 win against Uruguay on Friday “El cafeteros” turned over Chile 3 – 1 in Santiago.
Colombia’s Falcoa celebrates
Despite going behind just before half-time through Matias Fernandez, Colombia rallied in the second half with goals from Rodriguez, Falcoa and Gutierrez. Both teams finished the match with ten men.
Uruguay eventually managed to scrape a draw against Ecuador, thanks largely to a totally inept refereeing display form Carlos Amarilla. The Ecuadorians had the measure of their hosts for the majority of the game and deservedly went ahead through a Felipe Caicedo penalty in 9 minutes. Edison Cavani restored parity in 67 minutes for Uruguay but not before Ecuador was denied a stone-wall penalty.
Caicedo for Ecuador
Christain Benitez had raced forward upon goal but when he rounded the keeper he was crudely, bundled to the ground. A penalty and goal-keeper red card seemed obvious but the referee opted to book Benitez for diving. To rub salt into their wounds the referee also sent off Ecuador’s captain and talisman Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United winger now automatically misses the next two games.
Chile 1-3 Colombia
Uruguay 1-1 Ecuador
Paraguay 0-2 Venezuela
Peru 1-1 Argentina
Paraguay tumbled to another defeat realistically ending their qualification chances for Brazil 2014. This is all the more surprising with consideration that they have qualified for the last 4 World Cups and improved each time. Salomon Rondon grabbed a gaol either side of half time for Venezuela to earn a precious away win.
In Lima, Peru recorded a credible draw against group favourites Argentina. The hosts had already missed a third minute penalty before took the lead in 22 minutes through Eintracht Frankfurt’s Carlos Zambrano. Argentina’s Higuian got the equalizer just before half-time.
CONMEBAL Qualification table
Team P W D L GF GA Pts
Argentina 7 4 2 1 15 6 14
Colombia 7 4 1 2 12 6 13
Ecuador 7 4 1 2 8 7 13
Uruguay 7 3 3 1 15 11 12
Chile 7 4 0 3 12 13 12
Venezuela 8 3 2 3 7 8 11
Peru 7 2 1 4 9 13 7
Bolivia 7 1 1 5 7 12 4
Paraguay 7 1 1 5 5 14 4
This month’s double header results have left Bolivia and Paraguay rooted to the bottom of the table adrift of everyone else. With 4 points separating the top 6 teams and only 4 automatic qualification spots there is all to play for.
Uruguay has suffered the greatest with a 4 – o humbling and a poor home draw and they must improve if they don’t want to slide further down the table. Similarly Chile has lost form after leading the table.
Colombia and Ecuador are the major surprises so far but again next month’s results should tell us much more.
Next month’s CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying fixtures.