South American rivals seek to break deadlock

With the ninth round of fixtures of the South American qualifying tournament for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ fast approaching, seven countries are separated by only five points at the top of the standings. The time has therefore arrived for the serious contenders to make their presence felt and pull clear of their rivals. FIFA.comlooks ahead to the upcoming encounters.

Match of the day*Ecuador-Chile Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, Quito - *6 October 2016, 16:00 (local time) Following a spectacular start to the campaign, with four wins out of four, Ecuador have stumbled to only one point from the last four matches. The upcoming clash with the two-time Copa America champions is therefore vital to their prospects of qualifying for Russia 2018. “To restore our confidence, first we need to win. And we know we’re going to win here, because we’re going to play this match as if it were a final,” declared defender Luis Caicedo. Despite notable absentees including captain Walter Ayovi, Pedro Quinonez and Jefferson Montero, Gustavo Quinteros’ men have high hopes for the clash.

The Chileans meanwhile go into the match five points off the leaders in seventh place, and are fully aware of how important the fixture is for their own qualification hopes. Following the draw at home to Bolivia, coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has recalled midfielder Jorge Valdivia. Further bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, and with big-name stars Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez both expected to start, La Roja are keen to dispel any lingering doubts by securing the three points.

The other matchesIt’s a case of top plays bottom in Montevideo, where leaders Uruguay will take on Venezuela. Las Charruas are always a formidable prospect on their home turf, and Oscar Tabarez will have key men Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin and Fernando Muslera all available for selection. In the opposition dugout, Venezuelan coach Rafael Dudamel will be hoping that his team, who always manage to cause Uruguay problems, can draw strength from the draw claimed against Argentina last time out. Alejandro Guerra returns for La Vintotinto, while Salomon Rondon and Josef Martinez are both in the squad.

Sixth-place Paraguay, still reeling from a 4-0 defeat in Uruguay during the last round of fixtures, need to bounce back immediately if they are to avoid losing touch with the leaders. Los Guaranies are still only four points off the top and, for the match against Colombia in Asuncion, Francisco Arce expects to field the same XI who took three points off Chile in September. The Colombians also suffered defeat last time out, against Brazil, and will be looking to claim a positive result against a team lying only one point below them in the standings. Injuries to Stefan Medina and Daniel Torres have given Jose Pekerman a selection headache, the participation of key man James Rodriguez is also uncertain due to muscle problems.

After a bumpy start to the qualifiers, Brazil have steadied the ship under new coach Tite. Two wins out of two at the start of September left A Seleção sitting comfortably in second position and, with Neymar, Thiago Silva and Daniel Alves all available, he will be confident of continuing that winning run at home to Bolivia in Natal on Thursday. Their opponents are languishing in eighth place but, since Angel Guillermo Hoyos took over the reins as coach, La Verde have taken four points from a possible six. He will be looking to key men Ronald Raldes and Marcelo Martins for inspiration as his charges seek to upset the history books with an unlikely victory in Brazil.

The final match of the round sees ninth take on third, as Peru host Argentina. Peruvian* coach Ricardo Gareca has turned to Paolo Guerrero and ten other foreign based players for this crucial fixture. “We have to make home advantage count if we are to take the three points,” emphasised Guerrero. Despite the continued absence through injury of star player and captain Lionel Messi, La* Albiceleste can still count on the services of established international performers such as Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, the latter returning for the first time since the Copa America Centenario.

Player to watch*Jorge Valdivia (Chile) The veteran central midfielder, currently plying his trade at Al Wahda in the United Arab Emirates, is making his return for La Roja* after an absence of eleven months. Having served a four-match suspension, after which he was not considered for the Copa America Centenario squad, this is Valdivia’s first opportunity under Juan Antonio Pizzi. The gifted playmaker will bring vision, quality and a touch of magic to an already outstanding collection of footballing talent.

Did you know?Peru have not won at home to Argentina since the qualifying tournament for 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. On that occasion, Los Incas defeated a visiting team led by Diego Maradona thanks to a solitary goal scored by Juan Carlos Oblitas. Since then, the teams have faced each other six times on Peruvian soil, resulting in three Argentinian victories and three draws.

The words“We need to be very focused, very attentive. The cardinal sin would be to underestimate the quality of this Brazil team. Let’s hope Neymar isn’t on top form for this match. I think he’s right up there in terms of the world’s best, as we all know, and he can be extremely destructive.” Bolivia coach Angel Guillermo Hoyos.

Matchday 9 fixtures:*6 October *Ecuador-Chile Uruguay-Venezuela Paraguay-Colombia Brazil-Bolivia Peru-Argentina