While we Europeans are preparing for the first round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers that begin next week, South America has been in full swing for the competition since November last year. Round 7 kicks off tonight, 1st September with a number of intriguing clashes. Below is the table standings so far.
Perhaps a surprise to those who have not followed these games is Brazil lying in 6th spot and in real danger of missing out on qualification. The top 4 go through automatically with the fifth placed team designated a play-off match against a country from the Oceania Group which includes footballing giants like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand.
Five months have passed since the last round of matches in South American qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, and the landscape has altered for half of the teams involved, with five of the ten sides in the region now with a new head coach. The changes intensified in the wake of the Copa America Centenario in the USA. Compared to the last qualifying fixtures back in March, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Venezuela will all have a new tactician on the touchline for Matchday 7.
BOLIVIA v PERU 9pm
Bolivia's task is no easy one given that they only have three points on the board and must now face a Peru side buoyed by an impressive outing at the Copa America, where they beat Brazil in the group stage. Coach Ricardo Gareca's charges currently have four points and need a victory in La Paz, a feat they have never before achieved.
COLUMBIA v VENEZUELA 9.30pm
Colombia go into their match against Venezuela revitalised after earning six points from their last two outings. Coach Jose Pekerman once again called up key players James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca. The encounter at the Estadio Metropolitano de Barranquilla will be crucial if they are to keep touch with the group leaders. Somewhat surprisingly, Venezuela are bottom of the standings with just a single point but will take encouragement from having Rafael Dudamel at the helm for the first time in a World Cup qualifier. With Salomon Rondon and Tomas Rincon in the side, they will be hopeful of matching their near neighbours.
ECUADOR v BRAZIL 10pm
Ecuador are the surprise package of the qualifiers, behind Uruguay in the standings on goal difference alone. Against Brazil they have the opportunity to get back on track after collecting just one point from the last six on offer. While Felipe Caicedo, one of the top scorers so far in the qualifying campaign, returns to the fold, they will be without suspended duo Antonio Valencia and Pedro Quinonez. Meanwhile Brazil, who drew 0-0 with Ecuador at the Copa America, also have a new head coach after failing to get out of the group stage at that tournament. Dunga was replaced by Tite, who has selected seven of the recently crowned Olympic champions from Rio 2016 in his first squad, as well as recalling Marcelo.
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