(Sports Focus) What to look out for in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers

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By Michael Place

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) --- Almost two years to the day after the South American zone's World Cup qualifying tournament began in earnest, the moment of truth has arrived for seven teams whose hopes of booking a ticket to Russia next year lie in the balance.

Only Brazil, who lead the CONMEBOL standings with 37 points, are already guaranteed of a World Cup berth while Bolivia and Venezuela are out of contention.

Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador are all vying the group's three remaining direct qualification places and the additional playoff spot.

Xinhua looks at the major talking points in a tantalizing double-header block of matches beginning on Thursday.


Argentina need to beat Peru at home on Thursday and Ecuador away five days later to avoid missing the World Cup for the first time since 1970.

As ever, Lionel Messi will carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders. The 30-year-old has performed admirably in recent qualifiers but has lacked support from his teammates, particularly an attack that has failed to click despite boasting several of high profile names.

By winning their final two qualifiers, Messi's reputation will remain intact as he bids for the prize that some believe would crown him as the game's greatest ever player.

But if Argentina fail, the Barcelona forward will have to wait another four long years for redemption. By then, he will be in his mid-30s and his powers will surely be in decline.


Some Peruvian media outlets have added spice to the fixture in Buenos Aires by accusing officials of hatching a plot against their team.

The Todo Sport newspaper ran a front page headline entitled "Thieves", in which it accused the Argentine Football Association (AFA), FIFA and CONMEBOL of fixing the match.

It added that CONMEBOL had agreed to stage the fixture at Boca Juniors' famously intimidating Bombonera stadium, "despite recent violence" at the venue, including an episode in which players were sprayed with tear gas.


Another venue to raise concerns is the Metropolitano in Barranquilla, which is due to stage Colombia's clash against Paraguay on Thursday.

The visitors were forced to cancel a planned training session at the stadium on Wednesday after torrential rain left the pitch submerged in water.

Despite assurances from local officials that the surface will recover in time for Thursday's match, Colombia coach Jose Pekerman was not convinced.

"I wish I could say that it is ok, but I'm worried," the Argentine told reporters.


Chile is trying to avoid the dubious distinction of being the first Copa America holders to miss out on World Cup qualification since Colombia in 2002.

The Roja are sixth in the standings and even victories over Ecuador on Thursday and Brazil next Tuesday might not be enough to secure a playoff spot.

Recent losses to Paraguay and Bolivia were compounded by an ongoing feud between some senior players and Chile's media, which prompted a threat from midfielder Arturo Vidal to quit the national team.

Roja coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, who has been under pressure to keep his job, said on Wednesday that his players "are ready to give their lives".

"We are going to play at our limit because that's what we need," Pizzi told a press conference.


While there is never a good time to face Brazil, Bolivia might be fancying their chances ahead of Thursday's clash in La Paz.

The Verde have not lost a home World Cup qualifier against the Selecao since 1985 and will face a team diluted by injuries.

Brazil coach Tite will be forced to start with third-choice left-back Sandro after Real Madrid's Marcelo and Atletico Madrid's Filipe Luis were ruled out with leg muscle tears.

In addition, Brazil are likely to experiment with their squad in the knowledge that the result will have no bearing on their participation in Russia.

In addition to Sandro, Tite could hand opportunities to Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, Shandong Luneng striker Diego Tardelli and Gremio midfielder Arthur. Enditem

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