Teams from CONMEBOL are preparing for matchday 15 on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The ten teams have to fight against each other in one of the most exciting qualifying zones in the world. Brazil is the only one that has already advanced to the World Cup with 33 points, while seven countries are still in the race to earn an spot. Venezuela and Bolivia are the two teams eliminated.
Here’s a preview of the five matches that will take place on August 31 in South American World Cup qualifiers.
CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying: Seven Teams Still Vying for a Place in Russia
Venezuela vs Colombia
Venezuela arrives to this game in the last position of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying with six points. Meanwhile, Colombia has 24 points and finds themselves in second behind Brazil, but just one point away from Uruguay and Chile, and two points distant of Argentina.
Both teams will face off in San Cristobal, Venezuela. The home team has won four of the last five official meetings, including two victories in Venezuela.
James Rodríguez will be out for this game due to an injury. The Colombian midfielder who plays for Bayern Munchen in the Bundesliga suffered a thigh injury but is expected to play against Brazil next September 5 at Barranquilla.
Instead of Rodríguez, Colombia will have striker Radamel Falcao, who has seven goals in four matches with Monaco in France’s Ligue 1.
Venezuelan head couch Rafael Dudamel decided to include seven young players from the U-20 team who went runner-up at the FIFA World Cup this year in South Korea.
Colombia defeated Venezuela in their last meeting, a 2-0 victory in Barranquilla. But the last time Jose Pekerman’s team dominated ”La Vinotinto” at his home was back in 1996, a 2-0 defeat in Puerto Ordaz.
Chile vs Paraguay
Chile is looking to establish some distance against Paraguay at Santiago.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team has 23 points in the current qualifying cycle, one point away from Colombia and tied with Uruguay in third place. But the last time they faced Paraguay they finished with a 1-2 loss at Asuncion.
Paraguay needs to win if they aspire to keep hustling towards a spot in Russia. They have 18 points and are currently in eighth place.
Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal was involved in a bizarre scene at a casino in Santiago, where he started a fight against others guests in a party out of control. The incident comes out two days before a crucial match for his country.
But the best hope for Chile is his midfielder Alexis Sanchez, who returned from his injury and played in for Arsenal in a 0-4 loss against Liverpool last Sunday.
Uruguay vs Argentina
Probably the best duel of matchday 15 will be in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Argentina hopes for a victory as they have 22 points and are currently in the inter-confederation playoff spot, while Uruguay wants to deal a huge blow to Messi’s team and send them to the relegation zone.
The local team has 23 points, same as Chile in third place.
Barcelona striker Luis Suarez is likely to play with Uruguay despite not receiving the medical discharge for his right-knee injury.
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli will have his first game in World Cup Qualifying as head coach, and is still struggling for a final decision of who has to be the main striker. Will it be Juventus’ Paulo Dybala or Man City’s Sergio Aguero.
Sampaoli left off Gonzalo Higuain from the team and included new blood in Mauro Icardi.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is back from a one-game ban FIFA gave him for insulting a referee and he will hope to lead Argentina back into an automatic qualifying spot.
Argentina lost its last qualifier 0-2 against Bolivia back in March, without Messi.
Brazil vs Ecuador
Brazil is the only country in South America that has already qualified for the World Cup next year.
The “verdeamarela” team hasn’t had any problem on their way to Russia with 33 points in 14 matches and eight straight under head couch Tite.
On the other side is Ecuador, whose situation might be sereve if they fall in Porto Alegre. With 20 points, a victory will secure Ecuador a return to the qualifying zone only if Argentina loses to Uruguay.
Neymar will be the top player for Brazil at home. The new Paris Saint-Germain signing wants to put on an impressive showing in front of his fans and improve Brazil’s record.
But Philippe Coutinho is the other reason this match will be interesting. After a long term feud with Liverpool owners, finally the midfielder has agreed with Barcelona in a €160 million ($191.5M) transfer, according to Duncan Castles of Yahoo Sport UK. That move will make him the second most expensive player of all time after Neymar.
Peru vs Bolivia
Two of the worst teams in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying will face off in Lima.
Peru is in seventh place with 18 points, the same as Paraguay. Bolivia is even further back in ninth place with just 10 points and already eliminated.
With just four matchdays remaining, Peru is just four points behind Argentina for fifth and that inter-confederation playoff spot. But they’ll need to take care of business at home for them to have any chance at realizing their dreams of qualifying.
But the race for Russia will increase as the matches take the scenario, and only four countries from South America will be in the World Cup, while the fifth place has to fight against a team from Oceania.