INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on Thursday night's World Cup qualifiers from South America.
Colombia v Bolivia | Thursday 20:30
Colombia should get their faltering World Cup qualifying campaign back on track on Thursday night with a comfortable victory over rotten travellers Bolivia.
Los Cafeteros have slipped to sixth in the ultra competitive CONMEBOL table following one win in five and a winless streak of three. Sure, the recent run comprises home draws against Uruguay and Chile and an away defeat in Argentina but performances haven’t quite convinced.
Jose Pekerman’s men have been beaten just once at home in World Cup qualifying since 2011 – against Argentina – and all isn’t yet lost with three nations directly above them in the standings within two points.
Radamel Falcao misses out through injury but Carlos Bacca and uncapped Duvan Zapata are in the squad to lead the charge against a Bolivian side that’s lost all six away qualifiers so far and managed a single goal in doing so.
The brief optimism experienced under head coach Mauricio Soria when La Verde reached the 2015 Copa America quarter-finals has long since dissipated although Soria is back at the controls following the resignation of Angel Guillermo Hoyos in December.
However, Bolivia are winless on their World Cup qualification travels in 24 years and the Andean outfit were trounced 5-0 at rock-bottom Venezuela in their last trip abroad. La Verde have claimed only two qualifying victories in 19 and never even scored a goal on Colombian soil during qualification encounters.
There’s two angles of attack worthy of consideration; Paddy Power go 8/11 on Colombia winning ‘to nil’ – a selection that’s landed in five of Bolivia’s six away days already during this campaign or the 13/16 (188BET) on Colombia -2 in the Asian Handicap market.
The latter sees our stake returned should Los Cafeteros only secure a win by exactly two goals – a three-goal margin triumph or bigger will see us paid-out. Since 2013 Bolivia’s goals aggregate in 10 away qualifiers reads 3-32 – that’s an average defeat by three goals.
I’ll take the bigger price and Colombia to clear the handicap.
Paraguay v Ecuador | Thursday 23:00
Paraguay have taken top honours in each of their last seven World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador in Asuncion but confidence in the hosts has dissipated since a memorable win away in Argentina.
An embarrassing 4-1 thrashing at home to Peru and losing in the punishing altitude in Bolivia has left La Albirroja playing catch-up. The hosts are four points adrift of the play-off position and simply must win here to stand any chance of a grandstand finish.
Since Francisco Arce replaced Ramon Diaz as coach, Paraguay have lost four out of six qualifiers and they come into this contest without the services of the injured Miguel Samudio and Nelson Haedo Valdez.
Quotes of 8/5 (Marathon) reflect the state of the national side right now and I’d find it hard to make a case for the home side here. Saying that, Ecuador have hardly been firing on all cylinders.
After winning their opening four qualifiers, La Tri have won just twice in their following eight, a run that’s included a draw at home against Paraguay and defeat in Peru.
This is the sort of game Ecuador can’t afford to lose if they want to remain in the top-four automatic qualification slots. But picking up positive results on their travels has never been a consistent or familiar feeling for the guests.
Back-to-back triumphs in Argentina and Venezuela back in late 2015 remain their only wins outside of their altitude base of Quito in World Cup qualifying since 2009 and the visitors have collected only a point in their past four away outings.
Nevertheless, Felipe Caicedo is fit and this is a dangerous Ecuador side, well capable of causing mediocre opposition problems. Renato Ibarra will be absent but I’d still want La Tri onside in some way or form.
Odds on Ecuador with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap (8/11 888) are a bit skinny, mind. So instead I’m going to back Both Teams To Score at 19/17 (888) – it’s a selection that’s landed in seven of La Tri’s last eight away qualifiers and six of Paraguay’s past eight in Asuncion.
Venezuela v Peru | Thursday 23.30
Peru hope to keep their faint World Cup 2018 qualification hopes alive by picking up a first victory away to Venezuela since 1997 on Thursday evening.
Ricardo Gareca’s men have been plagued by inconsistencies thus far but the fluctuations in performance level is perhaps understandable with such a wafer thin squad; Luis Advincula misses out here.
Los Incas have impressed in recent Copa Americas and Gareca’s clearly making decent strides with the side – a 4-1 shellacking of Paraguay in their last away outing followed a credible effort in defeat at Chile and victory in Bolivia; previously Peru hadn’t won an away qualifier since 2004.
Hosts Venezuela sit rock-bottom with the significant improvement in the national team in 2011 long since forgotten.
La Vinotinto’s sole home success came against second-from-bottom Bolivia and whilst the hosts forced a 2-2 draw in Lima a year ago, their hit-and-hope policy to Salomon Rondon hasn’t paid dividends against rugged South American defenders.
All bar one of Venezuela’s qualifiers have featured at least two goals and with Peru only failing to get on the scoresheet at Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia I’m expecting the goals to flow in Caracas.
Over 2.5 Goals is overpriced at 127/100 (Marathon) – collectively these two nations are averaging 3.38 goals per-game.