INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on Tuesday night's World Cup qualifiers from South America.
Bolivia v Paraguay | Tuesday 20:00
Bolivia travelled to Venezuela on Thursday night, eager to build on positive recent performances despite the on-going wrangles from a six-point deduction over fielding an ineligible player.
La Verde had taken four points from games away in Chile (0-0) and at home to Peru (2-) last year only two see both results wiped out by 3-0 losses following the ruling. Understandably, the nation went into uproar and the situation remains entrenched with lawyers and advisors.
A 2-2 draw with Ecuador in La Paz last time out had further raised expectations but Guillermo Angel Hoyos’ men were without a triumph on their World Cup qualification travels since 1993 and their lack of confidence outside of Bolivia was ruthlessly exposed by fellow strugglers Venezuela.
Josef Martinez hit a hat-trick as injury-hit Venezuela ran out easy 5-0 winners, leaving La Verde slumped to the bottom of the standings. The visitors were out-shot 19-4, managing a solitary attempt on-target and all but confirming their elimination from the qualification process.
Hoyos’ troops return home for Tuesday night’s tussle with Paraguay as La Albirroja look to get back on track from the surprising and humiliating 4-1 defeat at home to terrible travellers Peru last week in Asuncion.
Victory for Fernando Arce’s charges would have pushed Paraguay ahead of Argentina and having taken an early lead through Cristian Riveros goal, the hosts capitulated in the capital. Four unanswered second-half goals from Peru took all the shine off the pre-match tribute paid to retiring Roque Santa Cruz.
La Albirroja have now lost three of their past four and must travel to Bolivia’s not-so-secret weapon, La Paz. The high altitude – the city sits a full 3,600 metres above sea level – always proves difficult for opponents.
Unacclimatised players find the thin air difficult to cope with and so the limited athletic capacity of travelling teams often proves their undoing.
Bolivia have not qualified for a World Cup since 1994 and in the following five qualification campaigns have only once finished outside the bottom-two (and then they finished seventh from 10).
But for such a poor previous return, La Paz has proven their saving grace. The 40 home qualification matches across those five campaigns since the ’94 World Cup 22 years ago have returned W16-D13-L11. Not bad for a perennial below-par outfit.
So despite their road to Russia all but ending, I’d still fancy La Verde to get something here. Paraguay fortunately pinched wins in Argentina and Venezuela but their longer-term return on their travels leaves a lot to be desired (W2-D3-L8).
Bolivia +0 on the Asian Handicap is 22/23 (888) and sees our stake returned if the game ends in a draw – not a bad price for a side that’s only lost 27% of competitive home games over nearly a 20-year period.
Ecuador v Venezuela | Tuesday 21:00
Ecuador made Uruguay sweat in Montevideo last week before going down bravely 2-1. La Tri remain fourth in the standings but will take great credit from their underdog role having been missing 10 players and key cogs for their away day on Thursday.
Felipe Caicedo was on target – the first goal the Uruguayans let in at home for 494 minutes – as Ecuador scored in their eighth successive game on the road. Gustavo Quinteros’ troops have notched in all bar one of their last 14 qualifiers.
Tuesday’s hosts will hope to return to winning ways when they welcome Venezuela. Los Amarillos have lost just three of their last 32 qualifiers on home soil with the high altitude in Quito wreaking havoc amongst visiting nations.
Ecuador have only failed to net once in a home World Cup qualifier since June 2008 – a run of 19 matches – and have struck at least twice in six of their last nine when playing in front of their beloved home supporters.
Venezuela are high on life having dispatched Bolivia with emphatic ease on Thursday night. Josef Martinez was the Vinotinto hero of the hour, scoring a hat-trick, with debutant Jacobo Koufatti and Romulo Otero also on the scoresheet, as Rafael Dudamel’s men climbed off the bottom of the table.
But three triumphs in 28 away days during World Cup qualification suggests the visitors will revert to the norm on Tuesday night. Dudamel’s outfit have shipped at least two goals in nine of their 11 games on the road to Russia already and looked woefully out of sorts when opposition teams come forward.
Despite missing a few headline acts, Ecuador showed against Uruguay there’s plenty of willing workers capable of slotting in and doing a job. And you’d have to expect La Tri can continue where they left off with a more positive result here.
Ecuador to win is a little too short but adding Over 2.5 Goals to the equation boosts the odds to 11/10 (Paddy Power) – each of the hosts’ last nine qualifiers have broken the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, as have eight of Venezuela’s last 10.
Bolivia v Paraguay – Bolivia 0 Asian Handicap (22/23 888)
Ecuador v Venezuela – Ecuador to win and Over 2.5 Goals (11/10 Paddy Power)