“El Cafeteros” were the first to start on Friday afternoon and they wasted no time in slapping aside Bolivia in Barranquilla. Torres, Valdes, Gutierrez, Falcoa and Armero each grabbed a goal to bolster their 2nd place position and condemn Bolivia to 2nd bottom.
Paraguay 1 Uruguay 1
In Montevideo, Luis Suarez had looked to have sealed a win with a late volley in 82 minutes. However, Benitez struck 4 minutes late to steal a valuable and unlikely point.
Argentina 3 Venezuela 0
In Buenos Aires it was business as usual as Gonzalo Higuain claimed a brace and a Messi penalty in between. The Argentinians consolidated the pole position, 4 points above Colombia.
Peru 1 Chile 0
Jefferson Farfan was the hero in Lima as he struck in the 87 minute against Chile. The Peruvians have had a rotten campaign but this rare win sees them rise above the bottom dwellers and reintroduce them to the 5th place battle.
Away supporters have been banned from this Group A grudge match but it shouldn’t lessen the atmosphere.This will be the first Balkan derby since the bitter conflict from 1991-1995 and the tie goes well beyond just football.
Croatia share the lead with the top of Group A with the fashionable Belgians and will enter the match as heavy favourites. A defeat more or less confines Serbia to the realms of Group dunces along with Scotland and Wales.
It remains to been seen if it “kicks off” at kick off.
Czech Republic vs Denmark (Friday 7.30pm)
Both teams need to get their act together if they are to catch up with Italy at the summit of the group. A draw does neither team any good, while a win re-energizes their faltering campaigns.
Poland vs Ukraine (Friday 7.45pm)
Both teams failed to set the heather alight as hosts of Euro 2012 and have to step up to claim a play off spot. Montenegro top Group H with England 2 points behind.
Montenegro vs England (Tuesday 8pm)
The Baltic minnows will relish the chance to bloody the nose of the English and cement top spot of the group.
France vs Spain (Tuesday 8pm)
The battle of the giants in group I is surely the tie of this months International dates. Both teams are tied with 7 points after 3 games but should have 10 points after their respective home games against Finland and Georgia. Spain have to slip up at some point, hopefully in the Stade de France.
Ecuador reinvigorated their World Cup qualifying campaign with a deserved victory against a poor Colombian team on Sunday afternoon.
“El Tri” dominated the match throughout and finally took the lead via the ex-Birmingham misfit Christian “Chucho” Benitez in 54 minutes; however the Ecuadorians second half profligacy almost cost them dear later when they lost Noboa to a needless red card on 86 minutes.
The Colombians rallied near the end and were victim of some poor officiating and penalty decisions. This prompted the “Cafeteros” to surround the referee at full time but they had little right of protest after a fairly, insipid display.
After last week’s humbling in Buenos Aires Ecuador needed to get their qualification campaign on track with a victory against Colombia. Lionel Messi had replicated his Barcelona form in the Monumental and ripped apart an Ecuadorian inexperienced defence at will.
The blame for this was left squarely at the feet of Ecuador’s, Columbian coach Reinalda Rueda. To many his tactics and inexperienced line-up choice was overly cavalier and baffling. Perhaps mindful of this Rueda opted to bring in Juan Carlos Paredes and Fricson Erazo to bolster the defence and Segundo Castillo and Jefferson Montero into midfield.
Much of the pre-match hype had concentrated on Falcoa, who had been linked to Chelsea and Barcelona in preceding weeks. The Atletico Madrid hit man had just had another free-scoring season in La Liga and the Europa Cup and his link up with Dorlan Pabon was felt to be a potent threat.
Unfortunately, they were as impressive and as explosive as a dead fish and the many Colombian supporters in the Atahualpa were left frustrated and bitterly, disappointed.
Ecuador controlled the midfield through the first half and many of their chances were created down the left wing and good link up play between Montero and Noboa. Unfortunately their last ball was often terrible. In addition Benitez looked slow and cumbersome in attack, often opting for long range efforts that smashed into the defence or skied high and wide.
The home crowd became audibly more animated every time Antonio Valencia received the ball but the Manchester United winger was unable to have a telling impact in the first half. Although he linked well with the marauding Paredes of Deportivo Quito, in the main he was well marked and covered. At times Ecuador seemed to concentrate their attacks on the right too much when the left was more successful.
Ecuador finally broke the deadlock just after half time. Walter Ayovi swung in a high ball that was deflected directly into the path of Benitez, who headed in from 5 yards to claim his 22nd goal for Ecuador. Boosted by his goal, Benitez became more animated from then on and was unlucky to double his teams lead 10 minutes later. From fully 40 yards his fierce shot cannoned off the crossbar then to safety.
From then on the game became scrappy and ill-tempered with both teams committing needless fouls. When Noboa scythed down Falcoa 86 minutes he had to walk setting into a motion a hectic last 10 minutes for the home side. In the end Ecuador held on for a valuable 3 points.
Ecuador has an awkward looking team and reminds me of one of the African teams of 1994 or 1998 World Cups. This is not because the majority of the players are of Afro-American decent but more because they a strong and athletic side which has plenty of speed although maybe at the expense of ball control and attacking ingenuity. On paper they cannot match other teams in terms of individual ability. They do not have a Messi or Neymar to create chances and harness the creative impetuous of a game so depend on their pace and strength.
Valencia is their star and a fine player but not a game changer. He is capable of scoring goals but his influence is limited by his far right position for Ecuador.
On Sunday’s evidence Ecuador will find it hard to match the likes of Uruguay and Argentina away fromQuito. If they are going to claim an automatic qualification spot they must score more goals and record points away from the Atahaulpa.
CONMEBOL CURRENT STANDINGS
P W D L F A GD Pts
Chile 6 4 0 2 11 10 1 12
Uruguay 5 3 2 0 14 6 8 11
Argentina 5 3 1 1 11 4 7 10
Ecuador 5 3 0 2 6 6 0 9
Venezuela 6 2 2 2 4 6 -2 8
Colombia 5 2 1 2 5 5 0 7
Bolivia 6 1 1 4 7 11 -4 4
Paraguay 5 1 1 3 4 9 -5 4
Peru 5 1 0 4 6 11 -5 3
With 9 points from 5 games and in 4rth position Ecuador have made a solid start to their campaign but the real effort will lie in their travels. They have 11 matches left to play and 6 of these are away from home. The Ecuadorians will have to create a Plan B if they are to progress to Brazil. If they lose Valencia or the opposition catch on to their reliance on the Manchester United player then Ecuador will be severely limited. Colombia can ill afford to lose many more points.
Ecuador’s remaining World Cup Qualification fixtures (home ties in yellow)
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.
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.