It’s getting to be crunch time in South America, as the ten CONMEBOL teams faced off in round 13 of World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018. While a couple of teams are virtually eliminated (thanks for coming, Venezuela and Bolivia) and Brazil is almost certainly through to the tournament, the other seven teams are vying for 3-and-a-half slots with only five games to go. In other words, every possible point counts, and Thursday’s five matches all helped to clear up the picture a bit more.
First, in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian national team must have breathed a massive sigh of relief. Following a controversial penalty call and subsequent Lionel Messi spot kick goal, the Albiceleste hung on against heated neighbors/rivals Chile, who probably felt like they should have left the capital with a point. The win puts Argentina in 3rd place on the table, two points clear of failure. Chile, on the other hand, is now tied for 5th (but in 6th due to goal difference), so La Roja will have to climb back up, starting on Tuesday at home versus bottom-dwelling Venezuela.
In the other marquee game, first-place Brazil took on second-place Uruguay in Montevideo in a battle of the elite South American squads. As speculated in our WCQ preview on Thursday, Uruguay did indeed score first, making it the first time Brazil had trailed under new coach Tite in 7 games. How did the Seleção respond? By walloping four goals into the net (including a hat-trick from Paulinho), taking an easy 4-1 win all the way to the top of the table, 7 points clear of Uruguay and 10 points clear of the last qualification spot. Things are looking good in Brazil right now.
In the other games, the results didn’t change anything too dramatically on the table. Venezuela blew a 2-0 home lead to Peru, wasting Rómulo Otero’s blast of a free kick and giving the Peruvians a very small chance at still qualifying for Russia. Paraguay took down Ecuador to get within 2 points of a spot in the inter-continental playoff, a spot currently held by none other than…Ecuador. And Colombia squeaked by in Barranquilla over Bolivia, thanks to James Rodriguez’s 83rd minute goal.
CONMEBOL qualifiers return on Tuesday, with key games such as Argentina traveling to the impenetrable high-altitude fortress of Bolivia’s La Paz, and Ecuador hosting Colombia to see who will stay in the top 5 and who will be pushed further down into the danger zone.