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World Cup

CONMEBOL

Traditional powers find World Cup qualiying anything but easy.

By Robert Rodriguez
Special To SoccerTimes

(Monday, August 28, 2000) -- With another round of World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, three soccer giants of South America (CONMEBOL) try to rebound from disappointing qualifying matches. A look back at the last go-around.

Four-time World Cup champion Brazil and two-time champ Uruguay lost their matches against Chile and Colombia, respectively, while 1978 and 1986 titlist Argentina only managed to draw Paraguay at home.

Meanwhile, Peru and Ecuador won home games against the two weakest teams in the region, Venezuela and Bolivia, respectively.

Brazil suffered a humiliating 3-0 loss against Chile in Santiago. Striker Marcelo Salas was on fire, providing assists to Fabian Estay and Ivan Zamorano before scoring a goal of his own. The result was historic as Chile had never defeated Brazil in a World Cup Qualifying match.

Coach Wanderley Luxemburgo returned to Brazil on shaky ground now that his squad has lost twice in the past three games and previously only managed to tie Uruguay and Colombia. In South America, a coach always has to keep his bags packed as there is extreme pressure to succeed. A string of mediocre performances usually results in a resignation. Then again, Chile coach Nelson Acosta was said to be on even shakier ground prior to this monumental victory.

Uruguay was the unfortunate loser in a hard-fought battle in Bogota. The 1930 and 1950 World Cup champ had two goals disallowed and was not awarded a deserved penalty kick against host Colombia. The first annulled goal from Uruguay was a chip shot by Dario Silva, who was ruled to be offside. The other injustice came when a handball was called against Nicolas Olivera, while replays clearly show that he actually chested the ball down. A penalty kick should have been awarded to Silva for being pushed in the area, but fate and referee Daniel Jimenez were not on their side.

Colombian Jairo Castillo managed to get a shot past star goalkeeper Fabian Carini in the 72nd minute, giving his side the 1-0 victory and three important points. As a result, Colombia leads Uruguay in the standings by one point.

Argentina needed a victory to recapture its early dominance in qualifying competition, but managed only to draw while playing in Buenos Aires. Paraguay gained a significant point in the standings thanks to the 1-1 tie. Playing without strikers Gabriel Batistuta, Claudio Lopez and midfielder Javier Zanetti, Argentine firepower was a bit subdued.

Roberto Acuna scored for Paraguay in the 60th minute while Argentine national-team debutante Pablo Aimar responded with a strike of his own six minutes later. Argentine defender Walter Samuel nearly won the game for the hosts in the final minutes of the match, but he couldn’t manage to nudge the ball a few inches over the goal line. Though Argentina remains first in the standings, its quality of play in the past two matches has been sub-par.

Peru barely managed to defeat perennial loser Venezuela in a 1-0 match held in the altitude of Lima. After struggling for 70 minutes, midfielder Roberto Palacios finally found the back of the net. Peruvian newspapers are screaming for coach Francisco Maturana’s resignation. On several occasions, Venezuela came close to earning its first away game triumph in World Cup qualifying, but never managed to put the finishing touches on its plays.

Ecuador played with an aggressive strategy in its 2-0 win over Bolivia. Forward Agustin Delgado scored a goal in each half for the hosts who now find themselves seventh in the standings with 10 points. Meanwhile, Bolivia’s hopes to qualify for its second World Cup are rapidly fading as they find themselves in ninth place with only fuve points to their credit.

The results throw the CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) standings wide open. Argentina leads the 10-team group with 16 points, while Columbia is currently second with 12. However, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay are tied with 11 points, while Chile and Ecuador have 10 points each. The top four teams in the region qualify directly for the 2002 World Cup, while the fifth-ranked squad will play a home-and-away match against the winner of the Oceania qualifying group.

Robert Rodriguez is a freelance writer based in Kansas. He has covered international soccer for 10 years, including the 1994 World Cup Finals, for both English- and Spanish-language media outlets. He can be contacted at argentinoamericano@hotmail.com

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