CONMEBOL WC Qualifiers Preview

Club football action goes on hiatus this weekend for a variety of international action. In South America, the stakes could hardly be higher as countries vie for World Cup 2018 qualification. While sides have only played four matches out of a scheduled eighteen, the complexion of the table in South America is already suggesting a few surprises may be on the cards. This week we delve into the best bets across the two sets of fixtures. 

Thursday 24 March

23/10 Bolivia | Draw 43/20 | Colombia 5/4 (22:00)

It’s still early days in the South American qualification for the 2018 World Cup, yet Bolivia already seem outclassed and unlikely to make an appearance in Russia. Bolivia have lost three of their four qualifiers to date, with only a 4-2 victory over rock-bottom Venezuela collecting points. Bolivia’s 7-0 friendly thrashing at the hands of Argentina in September last year seemed symptomatic of their coaching drama and the lack of direction plaguing the national side. Colombia will be disappointed to lie just a point above their hosts with a win, a draw and two losses. They’ve faced some tough opposition however and the greater quality within the squad should see them through. James Rodriguez will captain the side, with the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Abel Aguilar, David Ospina and Cristian Zapata adding plenty of experience in the absence of strikers Jackson Martinez and Radamel Falcao. Back Colombia to win at 5/4. 

5/10 Ecuador | 11/4 | Paraguay 11/2 (23:00)

Ecuador are the surprise leaders of the qualifying group, having won all four of their matches to date. They opened their campaign with a superb 2-0 win away at an injury-hit Argentina, netting twice in the final 10 minutes. This was followed by home wins over Bolivia and Uruguay, before winning on the road in Venezuela. The victories last year completed a run of six wins on the spin for Ecuador, a side who breaks at pace with very dangerous wingers in Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia. Paraguay have given a good account of themselves thus far, lying fourth with wins over Venezuela and Bolivia, a draw with Argentina and a loss to Peru. Paraguay do not possess the firepower of some sides in the qualifiers but are defensively organised and tough to beat. However, I’m tipping Ecuador to keep the good times rolling at 5/10.  

Friday 25 March

2/1 Chile | 2/1 | Argentina 14/10 (01:30)

Chile made a fantastic start to their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 victory over Brazil, building on their Copa America success of last year. This was followed with an exciting 4-3 victory on the road in Peru and a well fought 1-1 draw with Colombia. However, Chile’s 11-match unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of Uruguay in their last match under Jorge Sampaoli, going down 3-0. This leaves Chile in fifth place on goal difference, equal on points with Brazil and Paraguay. A tough tie against Argentina awaits, the first match with Jose Antonio Pizzi in charge. Argentina will be disappointed with their start to qualification. One win, two draws and a loss leaves La Albiceleste in sixth place and in need of a morale-boosting victory. Having Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero back in contention provides a huge boost and with Chile in a slump, Argentina must be backed at 14/10.  

11/20 Peru | 11/4 | Venezuela 57/10 (04:15)

Peru wallow in ninth place out of 10, yet showed in the Copa America that they have what it takes to challenge on the international stage. Peru beat Paraguay 2-0 to finish third in last year’s competition and will be hoping to capture some of that magic in attempting to qualify for Russia. Recent results are poor however, with only one qualifying win to date. Venezuela find themselves even worse off, losing all four of their matches in qualifying. A recent 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica was their first victory since the first match of the Copa America, getting the best of Colombia in June 2015. With the exception of Salomon Rondon, Venezuela lack a real sense of quality, particularly through the spine of the side. I’m tipping the home win in this one at 11/20.

Saturday 26 March

6/10 Brazil | 29/10 | Uruguay 9/2 (02:45)

Brazil have also had their problems in qualification so far, losing their first match 2-0 to Chile. Lying third, Brazil then picked up a 3-1 win against Venezuela before a cagey 1-1 draw with Argentina. A 3-0 win over Peru saw Dunga’s men back to free flowing game plan with Neymar fronting the attack in a roving role rather than selecting a traditional target man. This seems to best suit the qualities in this modern Brazilian side. Uruguay will be delighted to have Luis Suarez back from his lengthy suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini. The Barcelona striker could be partnered by Edinson Cavani if Oscar Tabarez decides to go that route. Despite Uruguay being a bit hit-and-miss on the road, the away Win/Draw Double Chance at 12/10 makes a lot of appeal against a Brazilian side missing a definable focal point.

Tuesday 29 March

Colombia | TBA | Ecuador (21:30)

Although I expect Colombia to have enough to find the three points against Bolivia, this will be a tough encounter against an Ecuadorian side in good form. Colombia’s form has been largely wretched of late and it’s strange that a team containing the talent of Colombia should struggle on the international stage. Their World Cup run was nothing short of sensational but since then the Colombians have been lacklustre. Ecuador look to be on the brink of something special and I will advise backing the away Win/Draw Double Chance in this one. 

Wednesday 30 March

Uruguay | TBA | Peru (00:00)

As mentioned, the return of Luis Suarez will no doubt change how Uruguay go about their business. The striker is in a class of his own at present and it’s entirely conceivable that he will help fire Barcelona to a second consecutive treble. Uruguay have only lost one of their qualifying matches without the influential forward. Peru will likely struggle to get a result in this one. Their 1-0 win over Paraguay - a team they have a good record against - are their only qualifying points to date. I’m expecting a comfortable home win here. 

Argentina | TBA | Bolivia (00:30)

Argentina were forced to begin their qualifying campaign with injuries to key personnel, a possible explanation for a truly shoddy run of form. Argentina have won only one of their past five matches, a 1-0 win away in Colombia in their last outing with a goal from Lucas Biglia. One can only assume that La Albiceleste will continue to improve during the course of the qualifying campaign. Bolivia have a woeful form line and were hammered 7-0 by Argentina in a warm-up to World Cup qualifying. I can only advise backing the home win here. 

Venezuela | TBA | Chile (00:30)

Something will have to give for Venezuela at some stage at one feels that this could be the match that they come up with an upset. Being back at home will suit Venezuela, as previous to their lacklustre run they had a decent home record. Despite Chile possessing a wealth of talent, I have my doubts about both their porous defence as well as their brand new manager. Pizzi will take some time to settle at the helm and will quickly realise that international football can be a cruel mistress. This is the time for a decent bet on the outside home win which will likely be available at attractive odds. 

Paraguay | TBA | Brazil (01:45)

I alluded previously to Paraguay’s sturdy defence and they will have to be at their best when hosting Brazil. Although I’ve tipped Paraguay to lose to Ecuador, they’re certainly no pushovers and will make thing tricky for Brazil. Paraguay always raise their game a notch when meeting the Samba Boys and haven’t lost to them in the last three times of asking. Indeed, Paraguay haven’t lost a home match with Brazil - albeit the meetings being few and far between - since 1985. Brazil certainly have quality on their side but Paraguay are organised and play with heart. The home Win/Draw Double Chance could turn out to be a winner.

Written by Rick John Henry