If Europe’s qualifying is a paved road, South America’s is a pebble-laden, foot-stomped trail twisting around a mountain, one you start climbing hoping you don’t meet a car making its way down.
The competition lasts two years, a double round-robin format forcing each team to face the others home and road. There will be peaks, as Brazil found in the middle of last year’s cycle. There will be troughs, like the one Argentina barely climbed out of to earn a ticket to South Africa. Some squads that qualify will barely resemble the ones that started the competition.
Now through seven matchdays, we’re starting to learn which teams will challenge and which have fallen off since last summer’s Copa America. Friday’s match in Baranquilla gave us a glimpse of a new threat, while a lopsided match in Córdoba cast a 2010 qualifier as a 2014 pretender.
Here are those results along with how South American’s aspirants sit ahead of tomorrow’s eighth matchday.
- It was one of the best nights in Colombian soccer history, but beyond the immediate glee of a 4-0 trouncing of the defending South American champions, Colombia’s rout of Uruguay was a message to the continent. A sleeping giant of sorts, Colombia haven’t been a power since the days of Carlos Valderrama. They’re still not at the Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay-level, but the Cafeteros‘ lopsided result opened eyes, leaving a lingering question: “What is Jose Pekerman capable of up north?”
- Argentina gave up a gift goal in the 17th minute, Rodrigo Braña clumsily handling a cross in the penalty area. It was the lone moment of hope for Paraguay, who fall to the bottom of the qualifying group after losing 3-1 in Cordoba. For Argentina, it was the type of performance we didn’t see last cycle, when the Albiceleste failed to play up to their pedigree.
- It’s a testament to how far Venezuela’s come that their loss in Lima can be considered a mild upset, but although both of these teams made the semifinals of last year’s Copa, the Vinotinto have designs on qualifying for Brazil. For qualifiers, points at Peru are valuable way to make up ground. Venezuela didn’t do that. Juan Arango got them on top just before halftime, but two second half goals from Jefferson Farfan extends Venezuela’s winless run to three, Cesar Farias’s team now outside CONMEBOL’s qualifying spots.
- Ecuador needed a 74th minute penalty kick from Felipe Calceido to beat Bolivia at home. While Bolivia is looking tougher this cycle than last, Ecuador has typically been a fringe World Cup contender – a team that shouldn’t have problems with a match like this. Last cycle, they won the same fixture 3-1.
Colombia 4-0 Uruguay; Ecuador 1-0 Bolivia; Argentina 3-1 Paraguay; Peru 2-1 Venezuela
The nine World Cup aspirants are in the process of a two-year, double round-robin tournament. The top four finishers qualify for Brazil 2014, while fifth place goes into a playoff against a team from Asia.
1. Argentina (6 GP/13 Pts./+9 GD)
2. Chile (6/12/+1)
3. Ecuador (6/12/+1)
4. Uruguay (6/11/+4)
5. Colombia (6/10/+4)
6. Venezuela (7/8/-3)
7. Peru (6/6/-4)
8. Bolivia (7/4/-5)
9. Paraguay (6/4/-7)
The eighth matchday takes place Tuesday, with Colombia’s trip to Chile giving Pekerman’s men a chance to build on their Uruguay result. Win in Santiago, and there’ll be no doubt as to Colombia’s quality.
The other games: Uruguay gets their chance to rebound against visiting Ecuador, Argentina is in Peru, while Paraguay hosting Venezuela is suddenly a very important match for both teams, particularly if Colombia and Uruguay (sitting fifth and four) get full points.