Neither the electrifying dribbles of Lucho Díaz nor the expected return of James Rodríguez opened the way to goal for a Colombia without ideas. Not even the four strikers that a Reinaldo Rueda thirsty for results ended up deploying on the pitch were enough for the coffee team to overcome the goalless draw against Paraguay on Tuesday at the Metropolitan Stadium in Barranquilla. The hosts have already completed five games in a row without scoring, but they remain installed with many difficulties in the qualifying zone of the South American qualifiers thanks to the anguish of the other teams that still dream of a ticket to the World Cup.
In the classic of the region, Argentina and Brazil drew goalless in San Juan, just the second time that the selection yield points in playoffs. Although no longer maintaining their perfect pace, Tite’s overwhelming team is still in the race to break the record of 43 points set by Marcelo Bielsa’s Argentina en route to Japan and Korea 2002. The two South American giants ride the qualifiers, remain undefeated and already They assured their presence in Qatar, so that the uncertainty is transferred to the other teams. Ecuador clings to its third place, and the table tightens from there down. Colombia despite its unusual goal fast remains in the upper part and Peru now surprisingly occupies the fifth place that gives the option of the play-off, while a reborn Chile besieges both positions.
In Barranquilla, the Colombian coach raised a dizzying match in the Caribbean heat, with a team launched to attack that had James as the starter from the start, but the Paraguayan defenders resisted the bombardment in the second game of Guillermo Barros Schelotto in front of the Guaraní team. Colombia finished the game without a ten, haphazardly besieging Antony Silva’s goal with four forwards: Duván Zapata, Rafael Santos Borré and the inexperienced Diego Valoyes and Cristian Arango – who relieved a willful James, but far from his ideal form, in the absence of ten minutes. The frustrating tie left Colombia with 17 points in fourth place, the last to grant a direct quota, while Paraguay fell to ninth with 13 points.
The ground that Colombia has given up, which had just lost to Brazil after three goalless draws, has allowed other teams to revive that until recently seemed buried. The most important movement was carried out by Peru, who also got fully into the fight and dreams again after winning 1-2 in their visit to the eliminated Venezuela, with so many from Lapadula and Christian Cueva. Caracas’ was their second consecutive win after beating Bolivia last Thursday in Lima (3-0). Ricardo Gareca’s pupils close the year on the rise and aspire to repeat the feat that classified them after 36 years of absence from Russia 2018 on the last date of the last qualifying rounds –via the play-off–. Now they accumulate the same 17 units from Colombia.
Just one point below Chile appears, which fell at home 0-2 against Ecuador but had just had three victories in a row. Goals from Pervis Estupiñán and Moisés Caicedo gave Gustavo Alfaro’s team three points, in a game in which Arturo Vidal was sent off in the first quarter of an hour and Alexis Sánchez was injured in the first half. It was an evening to be forgotten for the two standard bearers of the golden generation who won two editions of the Copa América, but was left out of Russia 2018.
In the match that opened the day, Bolivia thrashed Uruguay 3-0 and ended up sinking those led by him maestro Oscar Washington Tabárez at the height of La Paz. Juan Carlos Arce scored a double and the gunner Marcelo Martins, despite wasting a penalty, also scored to establish himself as the scorer in the Playoffs. In an inexplicable collapse for one of the most traditional teams in South America, Lucho Suárez’s La Celeste lost its fourth consecutive match in the fearsome 3,600 meters of the Hernando Siles Stadium, stalling at 16 points, falling to seventh place and even away from the fifth place that gives the option of the repechage. Despite the disaster, Tabárez assured that he will continue to lead the team in a cycle that is now 15 years old. “I do not consider throwing in the towel,” said the veteran Uruguayan strategist. Bolivia is already on his heels with 15 points, and still has hope.
When there are only four dates left to know the outcome of the South American qualifying marathon matches, with their 18 hard-fought rounds, everyone continues to score points –except for Brazil and Argentina–. With such short distances, speculation about the ‘magic number’ of points that a South American team needs to qualify has given way to the study of the remaining pairings in search of the clearest route. While Colombia has to receive Peru and Bolivia at home and visit Argentina and Venezuela, those led by Gareca after his departure to Barranquilla receive Ecuador, visit Uruguay and close in Lima against Paraguay. The fixture Chile seems infernal, since Argentina, Bolivia are measured at the height of La Paz, Brazil and Uruguay. The Charruas, in full free fall, also need to visit Paraguay and receive the Venezuelan school at home.
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