Thursday, August 27, 2009

Preview of South American Qualifiers

This is Post No. 1 in what will be several posts, over the next 10 days, taking a closer look at several important South Africa 2010 qualifying matches coming up on Sept. 5.

In this post, we turn to the expertise of a colleague from South America, Armando Varela.

Armando writes for and for Record, Semanario de Futbol, from México, as its Los Angeles correspondent.

A native of Medellin, Armando lived and worked as a journalist in Colombia until 1998, when he moved to the U.S., first to New York City and then to California, and he is very familiar with the thrills and spills of the grand South America qualifying experience.

Armando's outlook on the five South America (Conmebol) qualifiers being played Sept. 5:

--Brazil at Argentina (Rosario): With forward Adriano recently announced as part of the roster, Conmebol table-leading (and world top-ranked) Brazil (27 points) is set up to face Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the match of the day. The “Albicelestes” have been slow in getting their mojo working, with constant back-and-forth between their famous (and outspoken) coach and his star, Leo Messi, arguably the best player of the world these days. The Argentines stand only fourth in the Conmebol standings, and a home defeat could put at risk the two-time champs' chances of getting to South Africa. At all.

Brazil has been on a tear of late, crushing Argentina 3-0 in the Copa America final in 2007, and winning the Confederations Cup in June with victories over Italy, Egypt, host South Africa and the United States (twice). But Brazil was held to a 0-0 draw with Argentina in their first qualifying meeting, a year ago in Bela Horizonte.

Carlos Dunga, a non-celebrity-oriented coach in command of the Brazilian side, will have to conquer over a proud Argentinean team that has historically grown with the challenges and that claims to be a better team, man for man. Even if they don’t play in River Plate’s stadium, but 300 miles away, in Rosario.

--Venezuela at Chile (Santiago): Non-traditional power Venezuela -- up until a few years ago baseball was the country’s only passion -- travels to meet the previous breakthrough power in South American soccer, Chile. Chile is led by the Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa, a former player and now a coach and so popular in Chile that he is considered a possible presidential candidate. His team faces a not-so-consistent but sometimes surprising Venezuela that still has a small chance to get to its first World Cup.

--Ecuador at Colombia (Medellin): Beautiful-with-a-past Medellin serves as host city for a key game in which Colombia (17 points) will play for its survival against recently erected regional power Ecuador. With rumors of not getting the best elements out of the national pool of players and a rivalry with the fifth-placed Ecuadorians (20 points) that now is political as well as sporting, the Colombians will have to win this game if they want to remain alive in the competition.

--Uruguay at Peru (Lima): With Peru’s good times now just a memory, Uruguay has the perfect scenario to show up and regain some of the recently lost shine. Uruguay, still a South American powerhouse with a soccer tradition similar to Argentina’s and Brazil’s, faces a disoriented team that sits last in the group and has no chance to win a place to the World Cup, even if they play as hosts in colonial and mysterious Lima. Uruguay will do whatever it takes to get visitors points and compete for the fifth spot against Concacaf’s fourth. And probably will get them.

--Bolivia at Paraguay (Asuncion): Paraguay is third in the group (24 points) with a recent path that began in Copa America 2007 with a mix of spectacular wins and deep losses. The Paraguayans remain veterans of the World Cup with potential to surprise. Bolivia, the adversary (12 points), doesn’t look nearly as dangerous when playing at sea-level Asuncion -- that is, away from its 11,900-foot altitude aerie back at home, in La Paz.

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