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World Cup Qualifiers: Expecting improvement from Uruguay and Chile

Falcao is the top man in an extravagantly talented Colmbian attack

"Chile under new coach Jorge Sampaoli have had a fairly rotten start, and their qualifying campaign has not gone to plan whatsoever, yet somehow they are still very much in with a chance of qualifying and wins in their two games this week will set them back on the right path."

Recommended bet: Back Chile Draw No Bet at 1.9520/21

The South American section of World Cup qualifying is notoriously difficult, but with the absence of Brazil there is an extra berth available for one of the continent's underdogs. While Uruguay and Chile are currently struggling to even qualify, could Venezuela and Ecuador continue their remarkable campaigns with wins this week? Ed Malyon takes a look...

Colombia v Bolivia - Friday 20:00
On the surface, this Andean clash looks a bit of a mismatch, with Colombia one of the dark horses to win World Cup 2014 and Bolivia the ever-willing but never-winning minnows of South American football.

Only, that last bit isn't quite the truth. Bolivia are a very handy side at times, they are organised, and they boast an energetic front two who can steal them some goals - but this all tends to happen at home in the altitude of La Paz.

Bolivia's national stadium has previously been outlawed by FIFA over player safety concerns. The rule, brought in in 2007, forbade any international games taking place over 2,500m altitude - meaning that the Estadio Hernando Siles at 3,637m was way above the acceptable level. FIFA would extend the rule to 3,000m after protests, but it was only after the likes of Diego Maradona, whose Argentina team had lost 6-1 in La Paz, had had their say that a special exemption was put in place for the Estadio Siles. 

At home they are hugely advantaged by sea level opponents struggling to play with 40% less oxygen in the air than they are used to, but away they have a terrible record, and it won't get any better against a strong Colombian side. 

Having never won an away qualifier, games like this always represent an uphill struggle (wahey!) for Bolivia, although their 1-1 draw in Argentina last November was very respectable. 

Colombia won't be taking it easy on their neighbours, and their 1.261/4 price for this one reflects just how strong this side is and how bad Bolivia are on their travels.

The current generation of Colombian players is one of frightening talent, and it's not just Falcao - who is arguably the world's best striker at the moment. 

Solid at the back, with a functional central midfield duo providing their creative minds, Falcao has a host of ludicrously good partners to choose from, and that is the major selection question ahead of this tie.

Carlos Bacca (Club Brugge), Darwin Quintero (Santos Laguna) and Luis Muriel (Udinese) are all in great domestic form, but still find themselves behind Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez in their quest for the first XI. 

Martinez's phenomenal start with Porto should make him an automatic choice, but Gutierrez has a history of playing well alongside the Atletico Madrid man and could well get the nod from boss Jose Pekerman. 

It should be a regulation win for the Cafeteros, but don't expect a goalrush. Despite Colombia being in great shape with five wins from six, Bolivia have only lost one of their current round of away qualifiers by more than the odd goal, and that was the opener against Uruguay. Since then, they grabbed a draw in Argentina and lost in narrow 1-0s to Venezuela and Ecuador. 

If you are willing to write off the Argentina result as a freak - and it was a poor performance from the Albiceleste - then a handicap win for the Colombians is feasible as they are a far stronger side than any of those to have snuck past the Bolivians so far. They are 1.748/11 on the -1.5 Asian Handicap and represent some good value.

The other market that interests us is the Half Time/Full Time odds where Colombia/Colombia is also 1.748/11 although there is no major support for this from the formbook with Bolivia only trailing in half of their four away games so far. 

Recommended bets: Colombia -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.748/11

Uruguay v Paraguay - Friday 22:00
Uruguay have been the huge disappointment of the World Cup qualifiers, especially so since winning the Copa America in 2011. 

Mind you, they've still got a chance of qualifying for 2014, whereas Paraguay - a side that have made it to the last four World Cup finals tournaments - are rock-bottom of the group and behind the likes of Peru and Bolivia.

Since the brilliant Gerardo Martino left his post and took over at Newell's Old Boys, it has been a real struggle for Paraguay as their previous stars have aged and no-one has come through to replace them.

Roque Santa Cruz is approaching the end of his career, Lucas Barrios' stock has plummeted and Nelson Valdez is now also nearly thirty. 

Given how little there is behind their frontline, perhaps it's no huge surprise that they have failed to get any results and their home win against Peru last time out was only their second victory.

Uruguay have tumbled down the the standings since an impressive start to qualifying, and the Celeste are currently winless in four.

The real concern is not just that three of those were defeats, but they were thrashings, with Colombia smashing them 4-0, Argentina 3-0 and even Bolivia winning 4-1. Even a home game with Ecuador gave them just a point, and it is entirely possible that the South American champions could fail to qualify for the next World Cup.

Given their personnel, there is simply no way that this should happen, and in Oscar Washington Tabarez they have a top-class manager who is surely capable of getting them through this rut. 

The worrying thing has to be their defence, which is the joint-worst in CONMEBOL, and Tabarez has been experimenting with three different systems in training to try and stem the flow of goals. 

The back four (if it is a four) looks very likely to be Maxi Pereira, Diego Lugano, Diego Godín an Alvaro Pereira, and the overarching feeling is that sooner or later they will snap back into form and make something good happen. The market seems to suggest that this weekend is that time, and Uruguay are 1.618/13 to beat the Albirroja on Friday.

There is a dilemma up front, and that is to whether Edinson Cavani and/or Diego Forlan will partner Luis Suarez, but it's a strong forward line nonetheless, and Forlan and Suarez have, in the past, produced some sublime performances in the sky blue shirt of their nation.

Whether there's any value whatsoever in their price is the major doubt, with such a poor run of form behind them they are impossible to back at that sort of mark and it may pay off to be a bit more creative with small stakes on this one. 

Foreseeing this game to be a tighter encounter than the odds might suggest, we'll be plopping a little bit on the Draw/Uruguay 5.04/1 option in the Half Time/Full Time market in the belief that although it will be close, Uruguay's class advantage will see them edge it.

Recommended Bet: Back Draw/Uruguay at 5.04/1 

Argentina v Venezuela - Friday/Saturday 00:00
Check out our big match preview for a look at Venezuela's trip to Buenos Aires.

Peru v Chile - Saturday 02:10
It may not be a rivalry known around the world, but these two countries have a serious dislike of each other.

Historically good relations were somewhat ruined in 1879 when the two countries went to war over the strip of Bolivia that separated them and reached out to the Pacific Coast, it was a long-running conflict that ended with Bolivia becoming a landlocked nation and a two-year-long occupation of the Peruvian capital Lima by Chilean forces.

Chile eventually came out on top in the war, and both Bolivia and Peru suffered in the aftermatch with the Peruvian economy further wracked by civil war and the Bolivians desperately attempting to revive their maritime commerce by warring with Paraguay in an attempt to reach the Atlantic Rio de la Plata. 

Relations were further soured in the nineties when it emerged that Chile had been selling weapons to Ecuador when they were at war with Peru over their borders on the Cenepa River. 

In football, as well as economically, Peru has always been the poor relation and nothing bears this out quite like their current record against their southern neighbour, eight defeats in their last eight games.

Despite their good showing at the 2011 Copa America and undoubtedly a major improvement in the quality of their team, it is already looking very difficult for Peru to qualify for Brazil 2014 with only two wins in their campaign so far and sitting four points off the playoff position already. 

Chile under new coach Jorge Sampaoli have had a fairly rotten start, and their qualifying campaign has not gone to plan whatsoever, yet somehow they are still very much in with a chance of qualifying and wins in their two games this week will set them back on the right path.

Problems within the squad blighted Claudio Borghi's reign as coach, and some of those have carried over with David Pizarro and Humberto Suazo among the experienced heads who want no part of La Roja's future for now. 

This could be a blessing in disguise though, and following their great showing at the South American under-20s Championships, youngsters like Nicolas Castillo and Bryan Rabello may well get their chance to shine.

Peru are missing Carlos Zambrano - a key cog in their defence - for this game, and they just look as if they're a tad short of Chile's quality. Their home record is okay, but they've only beaten Paraguay and Venezuela and they simply have to be opposed here.

Recommended bet: Back Chile Draw No Bet at 1.9520/21

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21 March 2013

South American


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