The Miami Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In CONMEBOL, there also appears to be a “Big Three” emerging. Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia all appear to be in outstanding position to qualify directly for Brazil 2014. In fact, when we ran the remaining fixtures through xCRO, there was not a single simulation of 2,500 in which one of the aforementioned teams did not qualify directly. As a reminder, here are the results of our simulations:
There are 8 games coming up in June which could make or break the qualifying campaign for a number of teams. Argentina can officially qualify for Brazil on June 7th. With a win over Colombia, a Venezuela loss to Bolivia, and a Chile loss to Paraguay, Argentina can pop the bottles of Dom Perignon.
Conversely, Bolivia can be eliminated from the competition should they lose both of their June matches. Paraguay would not be out with a loss on June 7th, but there would only be one nail yet to be drilled in the coffin.
Paraguay v. Chile – Asuncion, Paraguay
This game is a must have for Paraguay. They still play Argentina and Colombia, and the teams in front of them have started to create some distance. Paraguay actually has not been bad at home, as they’ve picked up 26 of 33 possible points in their last 11 home matches. But their road woes have put them in the basement of the table, and the road back most likely is too arduous. While this game is certainly less crucial for Chile, they may hope to get away with a share of the spoils. That blueprint left them scratching their heads in Peru, when the Peruvians were able to snatch the winner in the final 5 minutes. Paraguay is not as strong, and things should end all level.
Argentina v. Colombia – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Believe it or not, as of this moment, these teams are the top 2 in our rankings. This should make for an outstanding match. Argentina loves to pour in the goals, as they’ve averaged over 2 goals scored per game in qualifying. Colombia suffered a surprise defeat in Venezuela to snap a 7 match unbeaten streak. The status of the incomparable Lionel Messi remains up in the air as a sore hammy has resurfaced. Colombia has a game in hand on everyone behind them sans Peru, so they have a little room for a slip up. This is their toughest game remaining, and Argentina just looks too strong.
Prediction: Argentina by 1
Bolivia v. Venezuela – La Paz, Bolivia
This is it for Bolivia. After this match, they have 3 road tests and only 1 home fixture, that being against Ecuador. If there is any hope at all, 3 points against Venezuela are an absolute must. Meanwhile, Venezuela find themselves somewhat surprisingly in the automatic qualifying position and with a favorable remaining schedule. While there is not the urgency here for them, returning home with any points would be big. Venezuela took the reverse fixture 1-0, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar result here in favor of the home side to keep their dream alive.
Prediction: Bolivia by 1
Peru v. Ecuador – Lima, Peru
Peru can’t come away empty here given that they still travel to Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela. Peru actually has a little bit of momentum as their late winner against Chile and a draw at Mexico in hostile San Francisco have to be encouraging. Meanwhile, Ecuador have been arguably playing as well as anyone in the world. They came back twice from a goal down to win at Portugal in February and subsequently thrashed El Salvador and Paraguay by a combined 9-1 in March. It’s been 10 games and almost a year since Ecuador lost, and that streak shouldn’t end here. This Ecuador side is just too strong right now.
Prediction: Ecuador by 2
Should these results come to fruition, the standings would look like this:
Colombia v. Peru – Barranquilla, Colombia
If Peru truly comes up short at home against Ecuador, they’re going to be in some trouble. Colombia will certainly move on quickly from Argentina regardless of the result, but imagine if they are able to come home on 20 points or more. Unfortunately for Peru, it would be quite remarkable if they are in this game at all. The last time Peru took points in Colombia was 2001. Colombia also hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1998, and you can be sure they smell blood in the water. They won’t pass up this opportunity to pounce.
Prediction: Colombia by 3
Venezuela v. Uruguay – Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela
One of the advantages Uruguay will have in this game is that they’ll be sitting idle on the 7th while the other 8 teams jockey for position. Without a doubt, this is the most critical match in June in CONMEBOL. With both of these teams in play for the final automatic qualifying spot or the 5th place play-off, the importance of this match cannot be overstated. I don’t know what’s happened to Uruguay in qualifying, but they’ve completely fallen apart. It’s remarkable considering they’ll be in the Confederations Cup in June, but they’ve only won 2 of their last 13 games. Venezuela would love to get 3 points on home soil, but it seems like these teams are too evenly matched.
*** Additional note: If these results hold, a draw here would qualify Argentina for Brazil ***
Ecuador v. Argentina – Quito, Ecuador
No rest for the weary here as Argentina face the other top nation in CONMEBOL back to back. If Ecuador grabs 3 here, their ticket to Brazil is as good as punched. As this match kicks off before Venezuela-Uruguay, Argentina still most likely will not know if they are officially one of the final 32. 3 points here would render any other result meaningless. In the end, this match probably will not matter all that much to either team. They may decide to just knock the ball around for 90 minutes and go home with a point apiece. While the cause is unlikely, the effect will likely be the same.
Chile v. Bolivia – Santiago, Chile
If Chile is serious about returning to the World Cup, this game is a must have. With only 4 games remaining, this clearly stands out given remaining matches against Ecuador and Colombia. We’re predicting Bolivia to stay alive with a win over Venezuela, but this is a tall task for a squad that seems to be a perennial bottom-feeder. Bolivia hasn’t taken a single point from Chile since 2001. That’s a streak that is unlikely to end. Chile’s path is not clear yet, but they need this one.
Prediction: Chile by 2
While surely something will change, standings after June would look like this should all of the predictions be correct.
It is highly likely that by the time these matches conclude, the parties in Buenos Aires will be raging long into the night. As stated in our AFC preview, Japan is highly likely to officially qualify by this point as well, but Argentina should be the 3rd team (including Brazil) to officially claim a place in the finals. Additionally, Ecuador and Colombia should improve their position and be feeling even stronger about the possibility of being a finalist.
Meanwhile, Bolivia and Paraguay are most likely going to be in a very difficult position. Peru still have 4 games remaining, but the task is certainly tall for them. They could actually get a little bit lucky should Argentina choose to use a weaker squad in a meaningless October fixture. Uruguay could also be afforded that same luxury, however.
It should be a fun campaign as the blurry picture starts to become clearer in South America. There is not much time left to make a final push for Brazil 2014.