The South American qualifiers are always some of the toughest. It’s true that the teams have only played a couple of games, but it’s also true that if you blink for too long, you might end up watching the 2018 World Cup, since these matches are rapid fire. Only two games have passed, and things are already crazy enough that if the qualifiers ended today both Argentina and Colombia would be out of the next World Cup. So here’s a primer on what to expect in Thursday’s games.
Chile – Colombia
No team is in better form than Chile. After winning their first Copa América in the summer, they started their trip to Russia in commanding fashion with two easy wins. Chile has a premier squad right now, one that includes players like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez, so the pressure is on. Meanwhile, the cafeteros are in sixth place after a win and an embarrassing defeat against Uruguay in Montevideo. All eyes are on James Rodríguez, who’s back from the injury that prevented him from playing at the beginning of the qualifiers. It’s on him to guide Colombia, a team that’s starting to garner angry criticism from fans and local soccer legends for their shoddy performance.
Argentina – Brazil
These are dark days for Argentina. Not only do they have just one point in their first two matches (including an historic loss at home against Ecuador), but they also have a big part of their team recovering from injuries. Messi, Aguero, and now Tevez are out against their most hated rival. La Canarinha, on the other hand, has Neymar back from suspension and in greater shape than ever. Argentine coach Gerardo Martino is being severely questioned; many assume that a win for Brazil might mean the door for him.
Ecuador – Uruguay
Two of the teams at the top of the standings will meet in Quito, where the Ecuadorian side has made the best use of the city’s high altitude. But Uruguay is playing great soccer. It should be a typical South American game where no one is willing to give an inch, especially since Uruguay showed that altitude is not an issue when they beat Bolivia in La Paz.
Peru – Paraguay
Paraguay has been one of the biggest surprises during these qualifiers. Peru has lost both of its matches with a case of bad luck. After their impressive performance at Copa América, we should expect this game to pave their road to recovery.
Bolivia – Venezuela
Make no mistake: these two teams are in the bottom of the standings and will most likely end there. Luckily, there’s nowhere to go but up for the winning team.