Brazil only cinch in topsy-turvy South American qualifying
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Only one thing is certain in South American World Cup qualifying: Brazil has advanced and is the best team on the continent.
The three other automatic berths are up for grabs with three rounds to play, starting with five qualifiers on Tuesday.
Seven teams have a shot. A fourth team will face a playoff against a team from Asia.
Despite a woeful qualifying campaign, Argentina can bolster its fifth place when it plays Venezuela, the weakest team in the region. Second-placed Colombia is at home against Brazil and has a tougher job. The final two rounds are next month.
Brazil leads the region with 36 points, followed by: Colombia (25), Uruguay (24), Chile (23), Argentina (23), Peru (21), Paraguay (21), Ecuador (20), Bolivia (10), Venezuela (7).
In other matches on Tuesday, it’s: Bolivia vs. Chile; Paraguay vs. Uruguay; and Ecuador vs. Peru.
ARGENTINA NEEDS GOALS
New coach Jorge Sampaoli is sticking with his three powerful forwards – Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi – despite them being impotent in the 0-0 draw at Uruguay last week.
Argentina has not scored in its last two qualifiers and has only 15 goals in 15 matches. Only Bolivia is worse with 13.
Despite the problems, Argentina is favored to beat Venezuela in Buenos Aires, which would keep the Albiceleste in a strong position. A loss would be a giant blow to morale for the 2014 World Cup finalist.
COLOMBIA TRIES BRAZIL
There is no lack of urgency for Colombia.
”We have lots of reasons to be really motivated,” Colombia forward Radamel Falcao said. ”We’re at home, and our fate is in our hands.”
James Rodriguez is expected to return from a right thigh injury after missing last week’s match at Venezuela.
Recent history is on Brazil’s side. It defeated Colombia 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup, and won 2-1 in the first qualifying match in September in the Amazon city of Manaus.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez says forward Luis Suarez ”is less than 100 percent” and doubtful for the match against Paraguay.
Usually cautious, Tabarez suggested Uruguay should win since Paraguay ”is a team that is below the others.”
That comment is sure to make Paraguay’s bulletin board as it takes the field at home in Asuncion.
UP IN THE AIR
Chile will have to fight through the thin air in La Paz even though Bolivia is out of the running to make it to Russia next year. Chile is already coming off a jolting 3-0 home loss against Paragauy. La Paz is 3,650 meters (11,900 feet) above sea level.
Peru is after a third straight win, but will also have to endure the altitude in the Ecuadoran capital Quito. Quito is 2,850 meters (9,300 feet) above sea level.