WORLD CUP qualifying continues in South America this week and Mark O’Haire’s (@MarkOHaire) taken a look at the odds.
Bolivia v Colombia | Thursday 20.00
The South American World Cup qualifiers are a marathon not a sprint but even after four rounds of fixtures, both Bolivia and Colombia will know they must start putting consistent points on the board if they’re to clinch a qualifying spot.
The duo are languishing in the bottom-half of the 10-team table having collected just seven points between them from a possible 24. A win apiece between them means defeat for either nation in La Paz could leave their World Cup hopes in tatters.
Julio Cesar Baldivieso's hosts were beaten 2-0 when welcoming Uruguay in their opener here but La Verde were the better side that day, winning the shot, shots-on-target and corner count quite convincingly and enjoying 68% possession.
A straightforward reverse by the same scoreline against Ecuador followed but a 4-2 victory over Venezuela brought hope. Bolivia then led in Paraguay, only for two goals within four minutes to see the side slide to a third loss in four.
Baldivieso's charges are currently undergoing a significant upheaval and their young side has looked defensively suspect from balls into the box and set-pieces. However, back at their La Paz base, La Verde enjoy a not-so-secret weapon.
The Bolivian capital sits a full, 3600 metres above sea level and the punishing altitude makes them incredibly dangerous opponents when welcoming their continental foes. As well as being much the better side against Uruguay here in October, Bolivia lost only two of their home qualifiers in the last qualifying campaign (to Chile and Colombia).
La Verde have not qualified for a World Cup since 1994 and in the following five qualification campaigns have only once finished outside the bottom-two once (and then they finished seventh from 10).
But for such a poor previous return, La Paz has proven their saving grace. The 37 home qualification matches across those five campaigns since the ’94 World Cup 22 years ago have returned W15-D12-L10.
Veteran centre-half and skipper Ronald Raldes and star centre-forward Marcelo Martins Moreno are no longer about for Bolivia but I still fancy the hosts to give Colombia a stern examination on Thursday night. Therefore, the 9/10 (Matchbook) available on Bolivia with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start appeals.
With this selection, we’ll pocket a half-stakes win should the match end all square but enjoy a full-stakes pay-out should Bolivia upset the odds and pick up maximum points. In simple terms, this bet would have made us money in 27 of Bolivia’s past 37 home World Cup qualifiers.
Colombia certainly don’t arrive in great shape. Jose Pekerman's visitors are without a victory since a flattering 2-0 success over Peru in their first qualifying encounter, were flattened 3-0 in Uruguay and were edged out 1-0 by Argentina in Barranquilla last time out. Los Cafeteros were at their best in a 1-1 draw with Chile (W1-D1-L2).
With form and fitness deserting the bulk of Jose Pekerman's squad, a serious lack of cohesion and numerous disjointed displays since their 2014 World Cup exploits, the Colombian boss has brought in 12 players who were not called up for the first few rounds: more new faces than any other South American side.
With Cristian Zapata suspended at centre-half the visitors lack experience at the back and although they squeezed out a 2-1 success in their last World Cup qualifying encounter in the Bolivian capital in 2011, the team was in their pomp back then.
Since qualifying began for World Cup 2010, Los Cafeteros have W5-D6-L8 away from home including a run of W2-D2-L4 since mid-2012. Of course, there’s quality in the likes of James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado but the big question remains: can they deliver in on the high altitude plains of La Paz? Not at the prices…
Ecuador v Paraguay | Thursday 21.00
It’s been a remarkable start for Ecuador who sit top of the tree with a 100% record from their first four matches.
La Tri stunned the planet by turning Argentina over 2-0 in Buenos Aires before beating Bolivia by the same scoreline on home soil with two late goals. Uruguay (2-1 home) and Venezuela (3-1 away) have since been turned over as Los Amarillos bid to book their place at a fourth World Cup in five.
Like Bolivia, Ecuador call on their Quito base’s killer altitude to give them a helping hand. When hosting continental rivals in qualifiers, La Tri’s exceptional record at Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa just cannot be ignored.
The hosts are unbeaten at home since 2009 and have W9-D1-L0 in their most recent 10 Quito dates. Since 2001, La Tri have lost just twice in 29 games with all the major South American sides falling to defeat.
So it’s no major surprise to see Ecuador chalked up as short as 8/15 here. So instead I’m taking the Asian Handicap approach and backing La Tri at 37/40 (Bet365) off a -1 start. If Gustavo Quinteros’ men win by a solitary goal, we’ll get our stake returned with a victory by two or more goals making us money.
Paraguay arrive having overcome Bolivia 2-1 on home soil last time out, their second success (W2-D1-L1). A goalless draw when welcoming Argentina deserves credit but La Albirroja’s other fixtures have come against arguably the weakest teams, and far from convincingly.
Head coach Ramon Diaz raised a few eyebrows by calling up Juan Iturbe to the squad and is planning on bringing his troops to the coastal Ecuadoran city of Guayaquil until just hours before Thursday's match, before travelling to Quito, in the hope it’ll help his squad adjust to the thin air.
However, I’d be surprised to see Paraguay stop the Ecuadorian train having W1-D2-L7 away qualifiers since the start of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, failing to score more than once on any occasion.
Chile v Argentina | Thursday 23.30
Both Chile and Argentina are under pressure to turn the tide this week after making uninspiring starts to their 2018 qualifying travails.
This fixture pits together the 2015 Copa America finalists but neither side is treating it as a revenge or ratification mission as defeat for either nation will leave the loser in an awkward position ahead of next week’s matchday six.
The euphoria of Chile’s maiden Copa America title has long since waned and been replaced by uncertainty following. In addition to drawing at home to Colombia and losing 3-0 in Uruguay, La Roja have also lost coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Under the guidance of the new man in charge, Argentinian Antonio Pizzi, Chile will be hoping to make Santiago a fortress once again although they’ll have to take on Argentina without Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, Jorge Valdivia and Eduardo Vargas.
La Roja are chasing a third successive World Cup finals appearance but there’s a feeling the golden generation has peaked and there’s intrigue into how Pizzi will set his side up after the swashbuckling style of Sampaoli saw the side picked off a little too often on the break.
As for Argentina, Gerardo Martino has five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi fit and available for the first time during this qualification campaign and La Albiceleste desperately require the Barcelona man’s genius.
Argentina were beaten at home by Ecuador for the first time ever in their opener and having accrued just five points from a possible 12 (W1-D2-L1). Victory in Colombia last time out has settled the nerves to a certain extent but just two goals have been scored in those 360 minutes.
With Messi and Sergio Aguero set to feature in the starting XI here, La Albiceleste will fancy their chances of turning Chile over. After all, Argentina are the last team to beat the hosts in a meaningful match in Santiago since 2012 but I’m still unwilling to invest any faith in Martino’s men.
Why? Well calamity cause Martin Demichelis will be lining up at centre-half and with Javier Mascherano suspended, the visitors are missing arguably their most crucial component in defensive midfield.
Matias Kranevitter, Lucas Biglia and Ever Banega appear poised to fill the midfield three and with a Ramiro Funes Mori- Demichelis partnership alongside Marcos Rojo at left-back, the Chileans will licking their lips at the prospect of being able to run at the Argentine defensive line.
These two teams are top-heavy and I’m hopeful they can serve us up a decent Friday night treat so I’ll take Both Teams To Score at 21/20 (William Hill), considering the team news at our disposal.
Peru v Venezuela | Friday 03.15
The current bottom-two of the South American standings lock horns in Lima in the early hours of Friday and again I’m keen to get Both Teams To Score onside at 6/4 (William Hill).
Peru head coach Ricardo Gareca can call upon the likes of Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero and their offensive approach under Gareca has led to a number of entertaining encounters, if not the desired results.
The hosts have leaked at least twice in all three of their losses but struck three times when Chile visited (losing 3-4) as well as overcoming Paraguay 1-0 in their sole success.
La Blanquirroja have picked up W7-D2-L3 in their past 12 World Cup qualifiers as hosts but interestingly, Peru have bagged just a solitary triumph since 2005 when conceding a goal at home.
Venezuela are pointless from their first four fixtures but have managed to score against Brazil away (1-3), Bolivia away (2-4) and at home to Ecuador (1-3) in their most recent matches.
La Vinotinto boss Noel Sanvicente called up experienced duo Salomon Rondon and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo alongside a number of youngsters in an effort to turn the tide and get Venezuela back on track, claiming the nation is in ‘sporting crisis’.
With Venezuela keeping just two clean sheets in 16 qualifiers and five of their last six featuring both teams scoring, I’m inclined to believe the guests can continue that run here.
For the record, BTTS has also banked in five of Peru’s past seven qualifiers too, and with their poor wining record when conceding goals at home in mind, both teams scoring is my preferred play.
Bolivia v Colombia – Bolivia +0.25 Asian Handicap (9/10 Matchbook)
Ecuador v Paraguay – Ecuador -1 Asian Handicap (37/40 Bet365)
Chile v Argentina – Both Teams To Score (21/20 William Hill)
Peru v Venezuela – Both Teams To Score (6/4 William Hill)
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