BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
After having lost four and draw two off their last six games, Uruguay got their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign back on track with a nervy but nonetheless crucial single goal win away to Venezuela on Tuesday. Going into the game, La Celeste were under tremendous pressure, outside the qualification spots after a brilliant start to the campaign, and without their suspended talisman Luis Suarez.
Under the circumstances, it was only to be expected that Uruguay would not play an expansive game against opponents with an exceptional defensive record at home, and who thrive on counter attacks. Manager Oscar Tabarez understood the gravity of the situation, and he sacrificed attacking flair for defensive solidity and cohesion in midfield.
Whether Tabarez had legislated for a performance of such limited fluidity in possession, and constant pressure at the back is debatable. Ultimately the fact that Edinson Cavani’s winning goal was Uruguay’s only shot on goal will be a trivial concern in comparison to the three points gained towards qualification.
La Celeste seem a shadow of the team that thrilled the football world with their run to the semis of the 2010 World Cup and Copa America victory in 2011. However, the team have at least halted a downward spiral with this crucial win. A draw away to Peru and win at home over a Colombian side with little to play for in the next round of games should seal a playoff spot against the fifth best side in Asia.
Meanwhile Argentina and Colombia continue to set the pace at the top of the group. Argentina came away with a one all draw from the high altitude of Quito in Ecuador. While the legions of fans that support La Seleccion will be disappointed whenever they don’t win, the result viewed in isolation is actually very positive. Ecuador have won every single one of their home games in the current campaign and have as good as qualified for the World Cup next year. For Argentina to come away as the first team not to suffer a defeat at the altitude of Quito is a testament to their physical preparation before the game, and mental fortitude during the match. With qualification virtually secured, Argentina are just battling Colombia to see who finishes the top of the table.
Speaking of Colombia, Jose Pekerman’s well-oiled team continue to be a sensation in CONMEBOL qualifying. Justifying their FIFA ranking of six, and fuelled by a golden generation of talent, Colombia easily overcame Peru by two goals to nil. The really impressive aspect of the win was Pekerman played without any of the creative trio of James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez or Freddy Guarin, and Colombia still won impressively. Colombia now sit three points behind Argentina in second with a game in hand.
As CONMEBOL qualification now takes a break till September, the picture has become clearer as to which teams will be in Brazil next year. Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile occupy the top four spots and barring any sensational collapses, should all be at the 2014 World Cup. The remaining matter of importance then comes down to fifth place and a playoff against an Asian team. Uruguay should manage to hold on, although Venezuela and Peru are not out of the equation just yet.
All eyes will now be on events at the Estadio Nacional in Lima on September 6 when Peru host Uruguay, in what could be the decisive game of a long and intense campaign.