Wednesday, 12 October 2011

On the (short) road to Brazil

With Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup, the single-pool South American qualifying competition is reduced to nine countries. The top four still qualify and potentially a fifth after a play-off against the fifth-ranked team from the Asian qualifying competition. It all got underway last weekend and here's how it went down.

Round 1

Uruguay 4-2 Bolivia
Ecuador 2-0 Venezuela
Argentina 4-1 Chile
Peru 2-0 Paraguay

New South American champions Uruguay got off to a flying start with a comfortable win over the one side unlikely to make a push for the top five, Bolivia. Luis Suárez fired La Celeste ahead as early as the fourth minute, scrambling the ball home from a corner. Though Rudy Cardozo levelled up 14 minutes later, swooping on a lovely chipped through-ball, Uruguay were back in full control by half-time as Diego Lugano and Edinson Cavani established something of a buffer. Lugano's looping header was too good for Bolivian keeper Carlos Arias and Cavani converted a deep cross with a stooping header for 3-1. Arias came and missed a cross 18 minutes from time allowing Lugano to prod home from a couple of feet. A late penalty from Marcelo Martins was nothing but consolation. Argentina also hit four in destroying Chile with Gonzalo Higuaín bagging a hat-trick. The Real Madrid striker fired his side in front in the 8th minute as Chile were caught out by a swift counter-attack. The finish was measured and precise. He turned provider for the second, slipping a lovely ball through for his captain Lionel Messi to make it 2-0 before being the poacher again shortly after the break for the third with a nice finish on the turn. Matias Fernandez took advantage of some flap merchanting from Argentina keeper Mariano Andújar to pull one back, but Higuaín had the last word with his third, laid on a plate for him by Messi.
Elsewhere, 2-0 home wins were order of the day. Venezuelan coach César Farías left out a few of his bigger players for the trip to Quito - perhaps a calculated risk with the game at home to Argentina just a few days later. Jaime Avoyí put Ecuador ahead after quarter of an hour, being the first to react after a shot came back off the post to him and Cristian Benítez doubled the lead just before the half hour mark with another header. The Venezuelan defence - without Fernando Amorebieta and Roberto Rosales - were all at sea for both. And the Vinotinto ended with ten men after José Manuel Rey's second booking late on. Two second-half goals from SV Hamburg forward Paolo Guerrero earned Peru all three points from their home clash with Paraguay. He capitalised on good work from Jefferson Farfán for the first, but still had work to do to weave through three defenders and finish low from a tight angle. The second owed to the persistence of Claudio Pizarro who worked his way to the byeline and dug out a cross which found Guerrero unmarked six yards out. The question now is how Hamburg get their player, who has a Dennis Bergkamp/BA Baracus-esque fear of flying, back to Germany for next weekend's Bundesliga clash.

Round 2

Bolivia 1-2 Colombia
Paraguay 1-1 Uruguay
Chile 4-2 Peru
Venezuela 1-0 Argentina

On an historic night in Puerto La Cruz, La Vintinto recorded their first ever win against Argentina. And good value for it they were, though Alex Sabella's men did look jaded after a 4000 mile trip from Buenos Aires up to the far north of the continent. Athletic Bilbao defender Fernando Amoerbieta was the hero, heading in the only goal of the game from Juan Arango's corner - Arango making his 100th appearance for his country - on the hour. Game of the night was in Santiago in a quite scintillating game between two of the continents great entertainers. Waldo Ponce turned in an early corner and Eduardo Vargas stabbed home for 2-0 in the 18th minute. Gary Medel blazed in a third before Peru - who had already struck the frame of the goal twice and would do so again before the end - struck back through Claudio Pizarro. On the hour, it became 3-2 as Jefferson Farfán pounced, but the matter was settled by an Humberto Suazo penalty late on.
Uruguay were held in Asunción after going ahead through Diego Forlán who tapped in what was probably his easiest ever international goal. Paraguay piled forward in response and Fernando Muslera was kept very busy in the Uruguay goal, but an almighty goalmouth scramble deep in stoppage time saw Richard Ortiz gain the decisive touch and earn his side a draw. Colombia, in their first game having sat out the first round of fixtures, needed a late, late Radamel Falcao goal to snatch a win in La Paz. The Bolivian capital is never an easy place to go even when, as now, their national team isn't in great shape, so it could prove a vital win in the final analysis. Colombia were the better side throughout, but only had Dorlan Pabon early in the second half to show for it when, with five minutes remaining, Walter Flores slammed in a screamer from 20 yards. Falcao started on the bench, and his fresher legs stretched the Bolivian rearguard to find space and time in the box two minutes into stoppage time. He doesn't miss those.


1st, Uruguay, 4pts, +2GD; 2nd, Argentina, 3, +2; 3rd, Ecuador, 3, +2; 4th, Colombia, 3, +1; 5th, Peru, 3, ±0; 6th, Chile, 3, -1; 7th, Venezuela, 3, -1; 8th, Paraguay, 1, -2; 9th, Bolivia, 0, -3

Next time

We reconvene in November with one round on Thursday the 10th and another on Monday the 14th and they line up like this:

Round 3
Argentina v Bolivia
Paraguay v Ecuador
Uruguay v Chile
Colombia v Venezuela

Round 4
Colombia v Argentina
Venezuela v Bolivia
Chile v Paraguay
Ecuador v Peru

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