World Cup qualifying in CONMEBOL continues on Thursday with first-place Brazil on the verge of qualifying as they welcome Colombia to Sao Paolo. The home side are 10-1-0 so far with 26 goals scored and just four conceded, and they could very well qualify for next year’s World Cup if the results go their way this month. Colombia, meanwhile, are in fourth with 16 points and far from in a comfortable position with six games to go.
Brazil: While there are some big names in attack, as usual, this squad from Tite also features some young players looking to continue to make a positive impression ahead of the World Cup. Leeds United star Raphinha is back in the squad, as is Ajax’ Antony, providing serious depth going forward. Against a Colombia defense that isn’t quite disciplined, the technical ability and speed of these attackers could cause serious trouble for Los Cafeteros. Expect Neymar to start but don’t be surprised if Raphinha also gets the nod after scoring twice against Uruguay in October.
Colombia: All eyes are going to be on 24-year-old attacker Luis Diaz, who is going to earn himself a big-money move to a massive club before long. The Porto man continues to be electric for both club and country and almost got his team into the Copa America final over the summer. His pace and shooting ability, especially from tight angles, means this Brazil defense must close down on him quickly. If Diaz can combine with those playing ahead of him, especially with short, quick passes into space, there is no reason why Colombia can fight for a point in the end.
When Argentina and Brazil play it might be the highest quality, most popular international rivalry in the Western Hemisphere, but there isn’t a more tense, dramatic and competitive one than the United States versus Mexico. The stars and stripes against El Tri has produced countless impressive and unforgettable moments over the decades, not to mention over the last year when the teams twice met in the finals of major international competitions. A third very well may arrive on Friday when they two meet in World Cup qualifying in Cincinnati, with both national teams in good shape to punch a ticket to next year’s World Cup in the coming months.
That one draw came, in fact, during the reverse fixture in Colombia one month ago, where the two sides played out a 0-0 draw which featured an engrossing final half an hour as both sides unsuccessfully pushed for a winner.
That result came between two good wins for the Selecao – first, a late comeback to beat Venezuela 3-1 after having trailed for an hour, and then a 4-1 thrashing of Uruguay in their most recent game.
Neymar opened the scoring after 10 minutes, with Raphinha adding a goal in each half and Gabriel Barbosa putting the icing on the cake after Luis Suarez had grabbed a consolation for the visitors, taking their unbeaten run in World Cup Qualifying to a remarkable 28 games since a 2-0 defeat to Chile in October 2015.
Tite’s side are equally impressive at both ends of the pitch, with their 26 goals a record high in the group and their four conceded goals unsurprisingly the lowest.
Brazil need just one point to secure at least a playoff spot, and if they win on Thursday – and Uruguay fail to win their next game – they will be guaranteed a place in Qatar with six games to spare.
Colombia’s campaign has recently been plagued by a spate of draws – five of their last six games have resulted in a stalemate, and the three most recent of those have ended 0-0.
The draw with Brazil was respectable considering the opposition, and a 0-0 away at Uruguay was not a disaster, but an inability to find the net is really starting to hurt Los Cafeteros.
Equally, their defensive record is not the best, with much of the damage having come from their shocking 6-1 loss against Ecuador just under a year ago.
Colombia’s spectacular run to the quarter-finals in 2014 and their presence at the last tournament in Russia mean it is easy to forget that they failed to qualify for three consecutive World Cups between 2002 and 2010.
Progress this campaign is far from guaranteed in such a tight group, with third place and ninth place separated by just six points.