SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay have already secured the region’s four direct spots at the World Cup in Qatar later this year, but there’s still a lot at stake in the final round of South American qualifying on Tuesday.
The biggest prize is the intercontinental playoff spot against the fifth place team from Asia, with Peru (21 points), Colombia (20) and Chile (19) chasing fifth place in South America. That playoff in June is likely to be against Australia, United Arab Emirates or Iraq.
Peru can secure its place with a home victory against Paraguay. Colombia needs to beat Venezuela and hope Peru doesn’t win. Chile will have to beat Uruguay in Santiago and rely on other results going its way.
Leader Brazil is targeting an historic mark at Bolivia on the same day. Coach Tite’s team can reach 45 competition points with a victory at altitude in La Paz, a tally that would break Argentina’s record of 43 in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. Brazil strikers Neymar and Vinicius Jr. are suspended.
Third-place Ecuador hosts second-place Argentina.
FIFA wants Brazil and Argentina to play by June their suspended encounter of Sept. 6, which was stopped in its first minutes due to COVID-19 protocols.
PERU vs. PARAGUAY
Peru is the clear favorite for the coveted fifth place, and Ricardo Gareca’s team showed a lot of character in its 1-0 loss at Uruguay last week.
“We expected to be in the World Cup with a direct spot, but that can’t be and we have to overcome that,” Gareca said after the defeat in Montevideo. He called on players to “focus on what is coming, which is a decisive match.”
The Peruvians will miss striker André Carrillo. He is out with a left knee injury and set to be replaced by Edison Flores. Gareca is also expected to start defender Jhilmar Lora.
Eighth-place Paraguay won’t have striker Robert Morales, who injured his knee in the team’s 3-1 win against Ecuador.
VENEZUELA vs COLOMBIA
If Peru fails to beat Paraguay at home, fifth place will be very much in Colombian hands with last-place Venezuela not expected to pose a major challenge.
Colombia scored its first goals in almost 700 minutes in qualifiers with a 3-0 win against Bolivia. Luis Diaz, who got one of the goals, is expected to lead the charge in the final round.
Veteran winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado is suspended from the match in Puerto Ordaz. Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda is considering Mateus Uribe, Wilmar Barrios and Jefferson Lerma as replacements.
“We should focus on us, block ourselves from other results,” Rueda said Sunday. “We should not be worried as a coaching staff about informing them. It is not good. Players must be focused.”