MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on Friday morning’s World Cup qualifiers from South America.
Uruguay v Venezuela | Friday 00.00
Uruguay top the 2018 World Cup qualifying table in South America after eight games having taken 16 points (W5-D1-L2) thus far, including a 4-0 destruction of Paraguay in their most recent outing.
Two goals from Edinson Cavani set La Celeste on their way to victory with Cristain Rodriguez and Luis Suarez also on target. Suarez set-up both of Cavani’s goals as Oscar Tabarez’s troops kept up their 100% home record intact despite the wet and windy conditions inside the Estadio Centenario.
The hosts have received a major boost with the news that Atletico Madrid centre-back Diego Godin has recovered already from an ankle ligament strain and is ready to play. The outstanding defender reckons another triumph in Montevideo would put his side in an excellent position to qualify.
These two teams only met four months ago n Philadelphia in the Copa America Centenario. On that occasion, Venezuela won by scoring the only goal of the match, ensuring a quarter-final place in the process and condemning Uruguay to early elimination.
But La Celeste had travelled across the county just days earlier and were grumbling about their travel arrangements. This time around they’re in familiar surroundings and will relish putting an out-of-sorts Venezuela side to the sword.
The visitors did lead Argentina 2-0 eight minutes into the second half in their last outing thanks to goals from Juanpi and Josef Martinez in Merida. But a 2-2 full-time score has given the guests a mountain to climb (W0-D2-L6).
No side has seen less of the ball across the opening eight games, only Paraguay have attempted fewer shots and only Bolivia are shooting from further out than La Vinotinto. With 21 goals already shipped and an average of 2.00 goals per-game conceded in qualifiers on their travels since 2011 (W1-D4-L7, a home win should be academic here.
Uruguay -1.5 Asian Handicap appeals at 28/29 (888). Since 2011 the hosts have W9-D3-L0 in home qualifiers with eight of those triumphs by two goals or more. Meanwhile, eight of Venezuela’s last nine qualifying losses on their travels arrived by a similar margin.
Paraguay v Colombia | Friday 01.30
Paraguay were mauled 4-0 in Uruguay during their last match, failing to mount any meaningful attacks as Luis Suarez terrorising La Albirroja’s defence. It was a terrible showing and saw Francisco Arce’s charges slide into sixth spot.
However, it was only Paraguay’s second loss (W3-D3-L2) and with the side traditionally stronger at their Asuncion base, I’m not writing them off here.
La Albirroja have already held Argentina and Brazil here and beaten Chile during an unbeaten home campaign thus far (W2-D2-L0). The 2010 World Cup quarter-finalists have lost their last four fixtures against Colombia but with star man James Rodriguez highly unlikely to feature, the hosts can avoid defeat.
188BET have made Paraguay available to back at 9/13 with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start; it’s a bet that would see us make money should Arce’s men avoid defeat – a half-stakes profit should the game end all-square and a full-stakes pay-out should Paraguay win.
Colombia’s three-match winning streak was ended in a 2-1 loss in the humid heat of Manaus against Brazil. Los Cafeteros were behind after only 80 seconds and were dominated in the first-half by the Selecao’s high-pace pressing game.
Jose Pekerman’s charges did level the scores against the run of play with an own goal but Neymar settled the contest in the second-half and Colombia could have little complaints about the final result.
With James a major injury doubt, it’s been suggested that Pekerman may opt to clog up the midfield and play fast on the break. But this match-up is unlikely to appeal to the purists with both sides well aware of the magnitude of a potential positive or negative result.
Since 2014 World Cup qualifying began five years ago, Los Cafeteros have W5-D2-L5 in away games whilst recording just two clean sheets. Include only results since 2013 and Colombia’s return reads W2-D2-L4 as the visitors have fired blanks on four occasions.
Those results represent just a 25% win rate over the most recent three years whilst a further mark against Colombia can be found in the average shots attempted table – only hosts Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela are below the guests and with no James pulling the strings, they could suffer in the final third.
This isn’t a particular appetising match but from a betting perspective, I’d prefer to be punting Paraguay with that +0.25 start. The 9/13 is a smidgen shorter than 7/10 but should give us a very decent run, in theory.
Brazil v Bolivia | Friday 01.45
Brazil have never lost a World Cup qualifier at home and the Selecao are the bankers of matchday nine in the South American section of World Cup qualifying as they welcome a Bolivian side that’s not won an away qualifier for 23 years.
The five-time World Cup winners had a poor start to qualifying and coupled with an awful Copa America campaign, Dunga was quite rightly dismissed.
Jeers were common when the Selecao were playing their qualifiers earlier this year, television broadcasts of their matches became less and less popular, and some fans even cheered when opponents scored.
But on the back of two convincing wins, Tite has changed everything. Anticipation is now high for the game with Bolivia in Natal with the country’s fans in positive spirits on the back of their team’s Olympic football success.
In his first fixture, Tito oversaw Brazil’s 3-0 triumph in Ecuador thanks to a glut of goals in the final 20 minutes. And the new boss confirmed it was no fluke when dispatching Colombia 2-1 in Manaus – a much more convincing victory than the scoreline suggests.
Brazil were the only team to win in both the September rounds leaving Neymar and his team-mates second in the standings with 15 points, one behind leaders Uruguay. Thiago Silva’s back in the squad and Philippe Coutinho is expected to start on the right-wing in a mouthwatering front-three alongside Neymar and Gabriel Jesus.
However, Tite is without Casemiro and having described the Real Madrid destroyer as the man who balances out his team, Atlético Mineiro midfielder Rafael Carioca may be asked to fill that void.
Bolivia haven’t won a World Cup qualifier on the road since 1993 but the recent appointment of Angel Guillermo Hoyos has given them a boost. The Argentine is expected to concentrate on youth development but in the short term he’s eased tension in the camp following the previous regime of Julio Cesar Baldivieso.
Key veterans such as centre back Ronald Raldes, attacking midfielder Pablo Escobar and centre forward Marcelo Martins Moreno have been coaxed back from self-imposed exile. And Escobar and Raldes scored the goals as Bolivia beat Peru 2-0 before an unexpected 0-0 draw in Chile.
Only Brazil picked up more points in September – though those points are in jeopardy, as opponents Peru and Chile claim Bolivia’s centre-back, Nelson Cabrera, a naturalised Paraguayan who came on as a late substitute in both games, was ineligible.
Cabrera received Bolivian citizenship after three years, but FIFA rules stipulate that a naturalised player should have lived in his adopted country for five years. And Cabrera has now not been included in the current squad.
Still, optimism remains high and Hoyos talking of taking the game to Brazil, marking them high, keeping the ball and coming away with three points. But with a W0-D6-L33 record away this century in qualifiers, it sounds like fanciful chatter from the underdogs.
Finding value is hard here – the Asian Handicap line has been set at 2.5 – a margin that’s not been as profitable against Bolivia as you’d expect.
Just three of their past 19 away qualifiers have seen La Verde lose by at least three goals and only two saw the outsiders lose both halves. Brazil have beaten that line in three of their past 13 home qualifiers with the same figure banking in the Win Both Halves market.
With that in mind, I’m going to chance the 1/1 on offer from BetStars for ticking ‘No’ in the Brazil to Win Both Halves market and have a wee interest in a 2-0 home success at 13/2 (William Hill).
Peru v Argentina | Friday 03.15
Argentina have been beaten in the final of a major competition in each of the past three summers and the negative energy and experience saw the world’s greatest, Lionel Messi, hand in his international retirement. Angel Di Maria says he considered following the Barcelona superstar…
Messi has since returned to the fold but injury will keep the wizard out of this month’s World Cup qualifiers, a significant blow for Edgardo Bauza’s men – Argentina have won all three games Messi has played but have only one victory in the five games he has missed.
La Albiceleste are currently third in the table, a point behind leaders Uruguay with emerging stars Angel Correa or Paulo Dybala being mooted as Messi’s replacement here. If selected, either is likely to be given a right-wing role, perhaps alongside Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Di Maria in attack.
It’s still a frightening forwardline but Di Maria’s come in for justified criticism from the French media for his lacklustre performances and there is a risk their 4-2-3-1 formation might leave the team disjointed, especially if Peru can press with sufficient intensity to make it hard for Argentina to build from the back.
La Albiceleste saw off Uruguay 1-0 in Bauza’s first fixture but his defensive unit was creaking badly in a 2-2 draw away to Venezuela days later as Argentina had to come from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in Merida.
Peru were beaten in Bolivia but earned a 2-1 triumph over Ecuador last month with Renato Tapia’s goal 12 minutes from time proving decisive.
This now represents a great opportunity for the Incas to build on that success with combative centre forward Paolo Guerrero capable of giving Argentina’s backline a headache or two.
Bright young talent Christian Cueva, Cristian Benavente and Raul Ruidiaz have impressed already and Ricardo Gareca’s charges have produced significantly better results at their Lima base in past World Cup qualifiers.
Peru have lost just five of their last 25 home qualifiers (W11-D4-L5), scoring in 22. Only once in that sample have the Incas lost by more than a solitary strike whilst 15 have seen both sides score.
Argentina have W5-D5-L2 on their travels in World Cup qualifiers since 2011 and only twice failed to score. Only one victory beat the one-goal handicap with an impressive nine encounters seeing both sides score.
I’m happy supporting Peru with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start at even-money with 188BET and will also invest in Both Teams To Score at the same price with BetStars.
Uruguay v Venezuela – Uruguay -1.5 Asian Handicap (28/29 888)
Paraguay v Colombia – Paraguay +0.25 Asian Handicap (9/13 188BET)
Brazil v Bolivia – Brazil to win both halves ‘No’ (1/1 BetStars)
Brazil v Bolivia – Brazil to win 2-0 (13/2 William Hill)
Peru v Argentina – Peru +0.50 Asian Handicap (1/1 188BET)
Peru v Argentina – Both Teams To Score (1/1 BetStars)