With little under 15 months before the big dance in Russia, teams all over the world are in grind mode fighting for 32 spots to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In South America, where the competition is most intense and fierce, as well as being known as the hardest process to qualify for a FIFA World Cup, we are two-thirds of the way done and the gap for multiple nations are starting to get tighter while the table also becomes more even than ever before. Here’s a look at what’s in store for Thursday.
Uruguay vs. Brazil: A rivalry and race to be first
Quite undoubtedly the match of the round, Uruguay will host the five-time world champions Brazil in their own backyard at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo. More than being one of the biggest rivalries in the sport, the significance of this particular match is that’s it a battle for the top spot in the standings and to see who qualifies to the World Cup first.
The visitors have rejuvenated under new manager Tite, going unbeaten in their first six matches since taking charge back in October. With signs of the Brazil of old entertaining the continent, they are making a name for themselves to get themselves to Russia and a win in Uruguay would without a doubt allow the Selecao to book their spots for the World Cup.
As for the hosts, they will have to go without suspended Luis Suarez in this one but will rely mostly on Edinson Cavani of Uruguay, who is the top goalscorer in all of Europe and will be the dangerman for La Celeste. They will also look to break a 16-year record of not beating the Selecao. The last time these two faced was March 2016 where it ended in a 2-2 draw on Brazilian soil. A thriller awaits.
Predicted Uruguay XI: Martín Silva, Maxi Pereira, Coates, Godín, Gastón Silva; Sánchez, Arévalo Ríos, Vecino, C. Rodríguez; Cavani, Rolan
Predicted Brazil XI: Alisson, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Marcelo, Filipe Luis; Casemiro, Paulinho, Renato Augusto; Coutinho, Neymar, Firmino
Argentina vs. Chile: A rematch with some bitter taste
La Albiceleste is back at their home stadium, the Estadio Monumental, for the first time in almost two years, having lost their first match in qualifying against Ecuador and drew their third match against Brazil. Since then, Argentina has played all over the nation, removed their coach Gerardo Martino following their loss in the Copa America Centenario and have been a rollercoaster ride to qualify for Russia.
Under new manager Edgardo Bauza, they will host the undisputed Copa America champions in a rematch of the past two finals and look to get a win to put them in the driver’s position for qualification.
As for Chile, they will have to go without the suspended Arturo Vidal and have to rely on such dangerous players such as Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas. If they want to inflict Argentina’s fifth ever home World Cup qualifier loss, these two men will have to be on top form in this rematch of the last two Copa America finals.
Argentina Predicted XI: Romero, Mercado, Otamendi, Rojo, Mas; Mascherano, Biglia; Messi, Agüero, Di María, Higuaín
Chile Predicted XI: C. Bravo, Isla, Medel, Jara, Beausejour; Aranguiz, Silva, Hernández; Fuenzalida, Sánchez, E. Vargas
Paraguay vs. Ecuador: a battle for survival
Free-flying Ecuador wouldn’t have imagined being in this situation when they had an amazing start in World Cup qualifying nearly more than a year ago. Four straight wins in their first four games followed by four losses, two wins and a draw in their last seven. Gustavo Quinteros’ men will need to have to defeat a hot and cold Paraguay in order to continue dreaming about Russia and rely on players such as Felipe Caicedo, Antonio Valencia, Miller Bolaños and Jefferson Montero among other players.
For La Albirroja, it do or die for them if they want to continue the dream of qualification. A must-win at the Defensores del Chaco is needed and they would have to do it with the likes of standout players such as Cecilio Dominguez, Miguel Almiron, and others.
Paraguay Predicted XI: Silva; Patino, Valdez, Da Silva, Alonso; Caceres, C. Riveros; Iturbe, Almiron, Dominguez; Lezcano.
Ecuador Predicted XI: Dreer; Paredes, Caicedo, Mina, Ayoví; Valencia, Noboa, Orejuela, Montero; Bolaños, Felipe Caicedo.
Colombia vs. Bolivia: Looking to back to old ways
Jose Pekerman’s men have noticed that the road to Russia will be tough following to not register a win in their last three matches. Against Bolivia, however, they will be looking to get back to winning ways with three points at home in Barranquilla being the main objective for Los Cafeteros.
James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, Carlos Bacca and others will have been the important players for this matchup against a Bolivia side that have been in the process of trying to find an identity and will hope to get a shock result in Colombia this time around.
Colombia Predicted XI: Ospina; Arias, Zapata, O. Murillo, Fabra; Sanchez, Aguilar, Cuadrado, James; Bacca, Muriel
Bolivia Predicted XI: Vaca; Raldes, Bejarano, Valverde, Saavedra; Campos, Chumacero, Flores, Castro; Martins, Arce
Venezuela vs. Peru: Los Incas looking for a light
And finally, in the final match of the matchday, Peru is looking to also provide a shock and go back to winning ways after rejuvenating some hope after their 4-1 win away from home in Asuncion against Paraguay. Spearheaded by Paolo Guerrero and Cristian Cueva, Ricardo Gareca’s men will need to get a big result in Venezuela this time around.
As for the Vinotino, they are playing for pride here and will look to ruin Peru’s parade by getting some of the results, hindering their chances of qualification to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Venezuela Predicted XI: Fariñez; Garcia, Velaszquez, Angel, Feltscher; Otero, Rincon, Herrera, Guerra; Soteldo, Rondon
Peru Predicted XI: Gallese, Corzo, Ramos, Rodriguez, Trauco; Carillo, Tapia, Yotun, Flores; Cueva, Guerrero