Monday, October 31, 2011

Mauritius withdraw from 2014 FIFA World Cup

Mauritius announced today that they will not be taking part in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Mauritius were scheduled to face Liberia in the CAF First Round. Liberia now have clinched a spot in the CAF Second Round and will partake in CAF Group J alongside top seed Senegal, second seed Uganda, and third seed Angola. Liberia become the first of twelve teams to advance from Round One of African qualifying.

Group J figures to be hotly contested. Senegal and Angola both qualified for the 2012 African Cup of Nations as group winners, and Uganda dealt Angola a 3-0 blow in Kampala at the start of qualifying.

News Reports:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Match Schedule: November 2011

November marks the start of qualifying for both Africa and Oceania, meaning that only Europe will have yet to start its qualifying campaign. The Third Round in Asia goes through Matchdays Four and Five. The CONCACAF Second Round draws to a close this month. CONMEBOL will witness Matchdays Three and Four of its eighteen-matchday marathon. This month is guaranteed to provide four eliminations in North America, three in Oceania, and a whopping twelve in Africa. A few Asian teams are likely to fall by the wayside as well.

Match times are given in Central Time (GMT-6).

11 November 2011 (AFC Third Round Matchday Four)
Japan at Tajikistan 3:00 Dushanbe
South Korea at United Arab Emirates 6:45 Dubai
North Korea at Uzbekistan 7:00 Tashkent
Australia at Oman 8:00 Muscat
China at Iraq 8:15 Doha, Qatar
Lebanon at Kuwait 8:30 Kuwait City
Singapore at Jordan 9:00 Amman
Iran at Bahrain 9:30 Manama
Indonesia at Qatar 10:00 Doha
Thailand at Saudi Arabia 10:30 Riyadh

11 November 2011 (CAF First Round First Legs)
Namibia at Djibouti 6:00 Djibouti
Mozambique at Comoros 6:00 Mitsamiouli
Rwanda at Eritrea 6:30 Asmara
Kenya at Seychelles 7:00 Roche Caiman
Liberia at Mauritius 8:00 Bellevue
Madagascar at Equatorial Guinea 9:00 Malabo
Tanzania at Chad 9:00 N'Djamena
Congo at Sao Tome and Principe 9:00 Sao Tome
Togo at Guinea-Bissau 10:00 Bissau
DR Congo at Swaziland 11:00 Lobamba
Burundi at Lesotho 12:00 Maseru

11 November 2011 (CONCACAF Second Round Matchday Five)
Cayman Islands at Dominican Republic 14:00 San Cristobal
Curacao at U.S. Virgin Islands 14:30 Frederiksted
El Salvador at Suriname 16:00 Paramaribo
St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Belize 16:00 Belmopan
Puerto Rico at St. Lucia 17:00 Gros Islet
Barbados at Bermuda 18:00 Hamilton
Haiti at Antigua and Barbuda 18:00 North Sound
Trinidad and Tobago at Guyana 19:00 Providence
Canada at St. Kitts and Nevis 19:00 Basseterre
Dominica at Nicaragua 20:00 Managua
Grenada at Guatemala 21:00 Guatemala City

11 November 2011 (CONMEBOL Matchday Three)
Bolivia at Argentina 14:00 Buenos Aires
Chile at Uruguay 16:00 Montevideo
Venezuela at Colombia 18:00 Barranquilla
Ecuador at Paraguay 18:00 Asuncion

12 November 2011 (CAF First Round First Legs)
Ethiopia at Somalia 6:45 Djibouti, Djibouti

14 November 2011 (CONCACAF Second Round Matchday Six)
Bermuda at Barbados 18:00 Hamilton, Bermuda
St. Lucia at Puerto Rico 18:00 Bayamon
Dominican Republic at Cayman Islands 18:30 George Town

15 November 2011 (AFC Third Round Matchday Five)
Japan at North Korea 1:00 Pyongyang
Australia at Thailand 5:00 Bangkok
South Korea at Lebanon 5:30 Beirut
China at Singapore 5:30 Singapore
Iran at Indonesia 6:00 Jakarta
Tajikistan at Uzbekistan 7:00 Tashkent
United Arab Emirates at Kuwait 8:30 Kuwait City
Iraq at Jordan 9:00 Amman
Bahrain at Qatar 10:00 Doha
Oman at Saudi Arabia 10:30 Riyadh

15 November 2011 (CAF First Round Second Legs)
Equatorial Guinea at Madagascar 5:30 Antananarivo
Chad at Tanzania 7:00 Dar Es Salaam
Seychelles at Kenya 7:00 Nairobi
Lesotho at Burundi 7:30 Bujumbura
Eritrea at Rwanda 7:30 Kigali
Swaziland at DR Congo 8:30 Kinshasa
Sao Tome and Principe at Congo 8:30 Pointe-Noire
Guinea-Bissau at Togo 9:30 Lome
Comoros at Mozambique 11:00 Maputo
Djibouti at Namibia 12:00 Windhoek
Mauritius at Liberia 14:00 Monrovia

15 November 2011 (CONCACAF Second Round Matchday Six)
Guatemala at Grenada 14:00 St. George's
Belize at St. Vincent and the Grenadines 14:00 Kingstown
Guyana at Trinidad and Tobago 16:00 Port of Spain
St. Kitts and Nevis at Canada 18:00 Toronto
U.S. Virgin Islands at Curacao 19:00 Willemstad
Antigua and Barbuda at Haiti 19:00 Port-au-Prince
Dominica at Panama 20:00 Panama City
Suriname at El Salvador 20:30 San Salvador

15 November 2011 (CONMEBOL Matchday Four)
Argentina at Colombia 15:00 Barranquilla
Peru at Ecuador 15:00 Quito
Paraguay at Chile 17:30 Santiago
Bolivia at Venezuela 19:00 San Cristobal

16 November 2011 (CAF First Round Second Leg)
Somalia at Ethiopia 7:00 Addis Ababa

22 November 2011 (OFC First Round Matchday One)
Tonga vs. American Samoa 19:00 Apia, Samoa
Cook Islands at Samoa 21:30 Apia

24 November 2011 (OFC First Round Matchday Two)
Cook Islands vs. American Samoa 19:00 Apia, Samoa
Tonga at Samoa 21:30 Apia

26 November 2011 (OFC First Round Matchday Three)
American Samoa at Samoa 19:00 Apia
Cook Islands vs. Tonga 21:30 Apia, Samoa

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Grenada 1 - St. Vincent and the Grenadines 1

Grenada hosted St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. George's in a match that both teams needed to win in order to remain alive in the race for Brasil 2014. A draw would ensure Guatemala the Group E title and thereby eliminate both the Spice Boyz and the visiting Vincy Heat. Neither side were able to step up and grab a first-half lead as the first forty-five minutes were scorless.

St. Vincent decided just beyond the hour mark that they wanted to continue onto Matchday Five with a chance to qualify, so they found the opener for a 1-0 lead. Grenada knew that they were up against the wall at this point. Unfortunately for them, their equalizer came in second half stoppage time through Clive Murray, the only Grenada player ever to have scored in a CONCACAF Gold Cup match. The final whistle sounded upon the match shortly after Murray's goal. With the 1-1 draw, both teams have been eliminated from the FIFA World Cup and Guatemala advance to Group One of the CONCACAF Third Round as Group E winners.

Guatemala 12 pts - IN
St. Vincent OUT
Grenada OUT
Belize OUT

St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Myron Samuel 62

Clive Murrary 90+2

Match Reports:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dominican Republic 3 - Suriname 1; El Salvador 4 - Cayman Islands 0

Suriname, ahead of their two-game finale against El Salvador for the group crown, played the Dominican Republic at home in Paramaribo. Jonathan Faña made sure the visit was a pleasant one for the Dominicans. He continued his stellar form in the qualifiers by beating two defenders and the goalkeeper for the opener before the match was even ten minutes old. The first half was back and forth, but both defenses held for a 1-0 halftime score in favor of the visitors.

In the second half, Erick Ozuna maintained his great form as well, scoring a brace for the Dominican Republic, giving Ozuna four goal in Group A play. The Dominican Republic were up 3-0 with just fifteen minutes left in the match. Suriname got one back with ten minutes left, but it was not enough to avoid a 3-1 home loss.

El Salvador welcomed already eliminated Cayman Islands to rainy San Salvador. Finally, El Salvador put on its first impressive display in qualifying. It was worth the hour and a half delay for the rain to finish coming down too hard for soccer to be played. El Salvador took advantage of their experience on wet fields with two goals in the first fifteen minutes from their defenders. A midfielder added a third right before stoppage team, giving El Salvador a 3-0 halftime lead.

The second half saw more dominant play by El Salvador. Nothing came of it until a penalty kick was converted with two minutes remaining to give El Salvador a resounding 4-0 win. El Salvador need only one point in their two matches against Suriname to advance to the CONCACAF Third Round and join Mexico and Costa Rica in Group Two.

El Salvador 12 pts
Suriname 7 pts
Dominican Republic OUT
Cayman Islands OUT

Dominican Republic
Jonathan Faña 9
Erick Ozuna 47, 75

Naldo Kwasie 80

El Salvador
Victor Turcios 6
Steve Purdy 13
Jaime Alas 45
Herbert Sosa 88 PK

Match Reports:

Highlights: (El Salvador v. Cayman Islands)

Guatemala 3 - Belize 1

Guatemala welcomed neighbors Belize to rainy Guatemala City. The rain kept falling all match long, which made for a sloppy pitch. A Guatemalan was brought down in the penalty area five minutes into the match by Harrison Tasher (pictured, navy), allowing for a conversion from the penalty spot for 1-0. Belize's Dalton Eiley had to substituted for after he suffered an injury in minute 22. Deon McCaulay then scored his seventh goal of the tournament, and his second against Guatemala, just beyond the half hour mark, giving Belize an equalizer against the run of play that made the halftime scoreboard read 1-1.

Midway through the second half, a ball that deflected off a Guatemala attacker and the Belize goalkeeper bounced around in the box before the one oncoming Guatemala player beat three Belize players to the ball for a tap in that gave the home side a 2-1 lead. First-half substitute Everal Trapp was shown red in minute 76 for bringing a Guatemala player down in the box, leaving Belize a man short as they fought to stay alive in the tournament. Carlos "El Pescadito" Ruiz (pictured, white) converted the kick for the 3-1 advantage. Guatemala would win the match by the same scoreline. Belize are eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup with two games left on their schedule, having lost three straight matches after opening with three wins.

Guatemala 12 pts +10
Grenada 3 pts -1
Belize OUT
St. Vincent 3 pts -6

Carlos Gallardo 6 PK
Mynor Lopez 65
Carlos Ruiz 78 PK

Deon McCaulay 31

Match Reports:


Panama 5 - Nicaragua 1

Panama faced off against fellow UNCAF team Nicaragua in the rain of Panama City looking to clinch their spot in the CONCACAF Third Round with a victory. Luis Tejada (pictured, red) of Panama had a 20th minute penalty kick blocked by goalkeeper Denis Espinoza, and the ensuing rebound was blasted off the crossbar, keeping the score knotted at zero. Tejada made amends for his miss with a goal nine minutes later. The score at the half was Panama 1, Nicaragua 0.

In the second half, La Marea Roja took over. Four minutes even, Nicaragua committed the unforgivable sin of allowing a goal off a long throw-in when Blas Perez rose up to head home the second goal. Panama had at least ten chances on goal over the course of the second half, and at one point held a 5-0 lead after Perez completed his hat trick. La Marea Roja are the first side to win their group in the CONCACAF Second Round, which means that Panama now join Honduras and Cuba in CONCACAF Group Three.

Panama 9 pts - IN
Nicaragua OUT
Dominica OUT

Luis Tejada 29, 64
Blas Perez 49, 52, 87

Daniel Reyes 89


Venezuela 1 - Argentina 0

Venezuela brought out its "A" squad for their home match against Argentina in Puerto La Cruz four days after their "B" team debacle in Ecuador. It seems that the true La Vinotinto team is a force to be reckoned with and a definitive favorite to qualify for Brasil 2014. Argentina, however, started the match much better, testing goalkeeper Renny Vega from all over the final third. The tide began changing at around the ten-minute mark, and the only person on Argentina who seemed to be able to stem the tide was goalkeeper Mariano Andujar, who certainly played one of the best matches of his life. He stopped a direct free kick from Venezuelan captain Juan Arango and then an angled one-on-one from Arango, both off Arango's favored left foot. Argentina escaped the first half even at 0-0.

In the second half, Venezuela's pressure did not let up. After seeing his direct free kick pushed aside by Andujar, Arango took a corner kick that landed on the diving head of Fernando Amorebieta, who knocked home his first goal for Venezuela in just his second appearance. Amorebieta oddly enough had played against Venezuela twice as a member of the Basque Country national team, a non-FIFA member. At this point, Venezuela continued to go for the second goal, and they came much closer to a second than Argentina ever came to its first. Venezuela defeated Argentina for the first time in eighteen attempts with a 1-0 score.

Uruguay 4 pts +2
Argentina 3 pts +2
Ecuador 3 pts +2
Colombia 3 pts +1
Peru 3 pts 0
Chile 3 pts -1
Venezuela 3 pts -1
Paraguay 1 pts -2
Bolivia 0 pts -3

Fernando Amorebieta 61

Match Reports:


Puerto Rico 0 - Canada 0; St. Lucia 1 - St. Kitts and Nevis 1

Puerto Rico were content to sit back and defend Canada on their visit to Toronto in spite of the knowledge that only a win could keep their hopes alive. A famous result in Canada would be more important than an unlikely qualification. All four midfielders sat back and defended in front of five defenders, forcing Canada to go for tough passes to break Puerto Rico down. To make matters worse, Iain Hume went down to a hamstring injury for Canada with ten minutes remaining in the period. The first half ended scoreless.

Puerto Rico seemed to be playing for the one counterattack opportunity to spring a 1-0 win. With six minutes to go, Puerto Rico found themselves one-on-one with Canadian goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld, who took a hard shot to his chest to preserve the eventual 0-0 draw.

St. Kitts and Nevis welcomed St. Lucia to Basseterre, knowing that Canada's draw earlier in the day had left the door open for St. Kitts to pull closer to the summit of Group D. St. Kitts received an early penalty kick opportunity, but this was blown by Jevon Francis. Ian Lake hit the crossbar on a header for the home side, and no goals were to be found in the first forty five minutes.

In the second stanza, St. Kitts again squandered a chance, this time from within the six-yard box. St. Lucia found the opener fifteen minutes from time against the run of play, but Lake redirected a cross with his head for the equalizer nine minutes later. St. Kitts were unable to find victory, however, and the 1-1 draw means that St. Kitts must defeat Canada home and away in November to advance to Round Four.

Canada 10 pts
St. Kitts 6 pts
Puerto Rico OUT
St. Lucia OUT

St. Lucia
Cliff Magnam Valcin 75

St. Kitts and Nevis
Ian Lake 84

Match Reports:


Bermuda 1 - Guyana 1; Trinidad and Tobago 4 - Barbados 0

Bermuda hosted group leaders Guyana in Hamilton, knowing that a second successive upset would be necessary to remain in contention for Brasil 2014. Neither team looked particular dangerous in the first half, and the lack of goals reflected this.

In the second period, Bermuda were clearly the better side. Their willingness to attack paid off when they scored off a header from a corner with less than twenty minutes left in the match. Guyana had run out of ideas at that point, so they played a hopeful long ball ten minutes after Bermuda had scored. Somehow, the ball found the head of Ricky Shakes and then the back of the net, giving Guyana a miraculous equalizer and ending Bermuda's FIFA World Cup dreams. Three Bermuda chances in the dying minutes failed to break the deadlock. The two teams wind up drawing 1-1.

Trinidad and Tobago played Barbados in Port of Spain looking to make amends for their loss to Bermuda four days prior. Lester Peltier of AS Trencin in Slovakia scored seven minutes into the proceedings to provide the goal that gave Trinidad a 1-0 halftime lead.

Peltier did not let up after the restart. Peltier had only one international goal coming into the night, but he would leave with four. He scored twice within the first twenty minutes to complete his hat trick and put Trinidad up 3-0. A last gasp goal in regulation time gave Trinidad a 4-0 victory and a chance to catch Guyana over the final two matchdays. In order to advance, Trinidad must collect at worst four points from its two matches against Guyana.

Guyana 10 pts
Trinidad 9 pts
Bermuda OUT
Barbados OUT

John Nusum 71

Ricky Shakes 81

Trinidad and Tobago
Lester Peltier 7, 54, 62
Hughton Hector 90

Match Reports:

Curacao 2 - Haiti 2; Antigua and Barbuda 10 - U.S. Virgin Islands 0

Haiti hosted Curacao knowing that a win would be needed to keep pace with Antigua and Barbuda. Curacao took the crowd out of the match very early on, scoring two goals in the first quarter hour to silence the Port-au-Prince faithful. Haiti pulled a goal back through a penalty kick midway through the period, but Curacao still held an unexpected 2-1 at the break.

Haiti were desperate to win the match knowing that if they failed, a single poor result against Antigua in the final two matchdays would see Haiti eliminated. After a quarter hour, Haiti had equalized, but it was not enough. A myriad of chances went begging, and Haiti stumbled at home 2-2, giving Curacao its first point of the tournament.

Antigua and Barbuda hosted the hapless U.S. Virgin Islands in North Sound. Tamarley Thomas crushed the Virgin spirits after just over five minutes had elapsed, a goal that was only the tip of the iceberg. Peter Byers knocked home a first-half hat trick, giving Antigua a 4-0 lead going into the break. Byers leads all scorers in the 2014 FIFA World Cup with eight, including two hat tricks against the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the first thirty-five minutes of the second period, both Thomas and Randolph Burton scored two for Antigua, leaving Thomas with his own hat trick and Antigua with an 8-0 lead. The damage was not complete until two more Antigua players got on the scoresheet in the final five minutes, completing a 10-0 demolition.

Antigua 12 pts
Haiti 10 pts
Curacao OUT

Richmar Siberie 7
Sendley Bito 14

Jean-Eudes Maurice 25 PK
Jean Jacques Pierre 60

Antigua and Barbuda
Tamarley Thomas 6, 41, 78
Peter Byers 23, 30, 39
Randolph Burton 54, 66
Jamie Thomas 85
Kieran Murtagh 90

Match Reports:


Chile 4 - Peru 2

Chile hosted neighbors Peru in Santiago. The scoreboard immediately changed in favor of the Chileans as a free header from central defender Waldo Ponce hit the back of the net after a header from Arturo Vidal (pictured, red #8) was flicked onto Ponce. Thus, Chile opened the scoring two minutes into the match. Peru found a way to hit the woodwork four times. A quarter hour passed before Jean Beasejour ran up the left side of the pitch and unleashed a great cross to allow for a teammate to easily tap in for 2-0. That was the score at the halftime whistle.

Two minutes into the second half, Chile's Gary Medel won a defensive header and then began a mad sprint toward the goalmouth. Jorge Valdivia (pictured, red #10), passed Medel the ball while suffering a foul, and Medel scored a rocket into the upper ninety from twenty yards out. Chile believed themselves to be home free at 3-0. Two minutes later, an awful play by Chile's goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo led to Peru's goal. Bravo had an awful clearance that landed in his own box and then failed to guard his near post as Claudio Pizarro (pictured, white #14) ran the ball up the endline before finishing near post for 3-1. Ten minutes after that, a great inswinging set piece cross from Juan Manuel Vargas lead to an open header from Jefferson Farfan, closing the gap to 3-2. Four minutes after that, Peru's goalkeeper chopped Valdivia down in the box, setting up a Chile penalty kick, which was converted for a 4-2 score. The scoring was absent over the final half hour, allowing Chile's fans to relax. Chile wins 4-2 and grabs their first three points of the tournament.

Waldo Ponce 2
Eduardo Vargas 18
Gary Medel 47
Humberto Suazo 63 PK

Claudio Pizarro 49
Jefferson Farfan 59

Match Reports:


Paraguay 1 - Uruguay 1

In an odd decision, both Paraguay-Uruguay and Chile-Peru were scheduled to kick off at the same time, a rare occurrence indeed for the CONMEBOL region that usually maximizes its television exposure. Uruguay visited Asuncion in a rematch of the 2011 Copa America final. Uruguay were given full respect by Paraguay, whose strategy was to create a defensive shell and hope for the odd counterattack. Uruguay were unable to break the defense down in the 0-0 first half.

Midway through the second period, Luis Suarez was able to beat two defenders and send in a pass that Diego Forlan (pictured, 10) was able to tap in for a deserved 1-0 lead for Uruguay. Paraguay never showed too much in attack, even after the deficit took form. However, a set piece in stoppage time allowed Paraguay to send folks forward, and a little bit of luck at the end of a loose ball scramble sent the ball into the Uruguayan net, giving Paraguay a 1-1 tie at home.

Diego Forlan 67

Richard Ortiz 90+1

Match Reports:


Colombia 2 - Bolivia 1

Bolivia made use of the highest-altitude stadium in the region, the imposing Hernando Siles in La Paz. The visiting side were Colombia, but the visitors got the better of play during the first half. Colombia, as usual, displayed the finishing disease that has afflicted them for years, and chance after chance went begging in the first half, leaving the game knotted at zero goals apiece.

In the second half, Colombia broke a counterattack two minutes in that resulted in a chipped goal around the onrushing goalkeeper. From that point on, Bolivia were clearly the better team. Six minutes from full time, Walter Flores received a pass and smashed a bomb off the underside of the crossbar for the equalizer. An overconfident Bolivia began sending too many men forward, desperate for the full three points at home. In the final minute of stoppage time, Colombia broke a counterattack on the overextended Bolivians, leading to an easy two-on-one fast break and finish for the 2-1 Cafeteros victory. Colombia become the first team to win on the road in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Dorlan Pabon 47
Rafael Falcao 90+2

Walter Flores 84

Match Reports:


Iran 6 - Bahrain 0; Qatar 3 - Indonesia 2

Qatar visited Indonesia before 85,000 spectators in rainy Jakarta. Uruguayan-born Cristian Gonzales did his very best to do his adopted home country proud. Qatar must have thought a rout was possible when they scored a goal just before the quarter hour mark, but Gonzales would not let the match get out of hand. He scored twelve minutes after the opener to equalize at 1-1. Ibrahim Khalfan would chip the Indonesia goalkeeper from outside the penalty area for a 2-1 lead just six minutes later, but again Gonzales responded, this time after a three-minute wait. Indonesia were thankful for the 2-2 scoreline at the half.

In the second half, Qatar superiority eventually shone through. A breakaway occurred when Mohammed Razak received a throughball and outran two Indonesian defenders, after which he fired home into the upper ninety in the face of an onrushing keeper. The 3-2 result held up as Gonzales could not replicate his magic for a hat trick. Qatar look to be in good shape with home matches remaining against Indonesia and Bahrain.

Iran were prepared for an important and tough test against Bahrain at home in the cavernous Azadi Stadium in Tehran. However, the task was made simpler when Rashid Al Hooti got himself thrown out of the match in the first minute, leaving Bahrain with ten men for a full ninety minutes against the best team in their group. Al Hooti set the FIFA World Cup qualifying record by getting a red card at forty-three seconds for his two-legged spikes up tackle from the side into Iranian star midfielder Andranik Teymourian. Teymourian emerged healthy from the tackle, luckily. Bahrain cannot be said to have emerged in quite as good of condition. Iran punished Bahrain with three goals in the first half to take a 3-0 lead into the break.

In the second half, Iran did not let up, scoring yet another trio of goals. Teymourian, as if to prove his health, scored the fourth goal of the match. The final score was 6-0, and a humiliated Bahrain side left with over 83,000 smiling faces applauding the triumph of Iran.

Iran 7 pts +9
Qatar 5 pts +1
Bahrain 4 pts -4
Indonesia 0 pts -6

Abdulaziz Al-Sulati 14
Ibrahim Khalfan 32
Mohammed Razak 59

Cristian Gonzales 26, 35

Seyed Hosseini 22
Mojtaba Jobari 34
Hadi Aghili 42
Andranik Teymourian 62
Karim Ansari 75
Gholam Rezaei 83

Match Reports:


Lebanon 2 - Kuwait 2; South Korea 2 - United Arab Emirates 1

South Korea came home to Suwon to face underperforming United Arab Emirates. Ahmad Khalil was out injured for UAE, leaving their star striker Ismail Matar (picture, white) alone up top. UAE proved to be stronger defensively than South Korea had anticipated, meaning that the Taegeuk Warriors had to adjust their offensive formation for the second half after a scoreless first forty-five minutes.

The two South Korean attackers were moved further up the pitch for the second half of play. A mistaken backward pass from Matar led to the break that allowed Park Chu-Young to score his fifth goal in Group B play. Disaster struck UAE with an unfortunate own goal hit the net thirteen minutes later. To their credit, UAE kept pushing, and Matar scored on a beautiful sombrero one-two-one play in stoppage time. However, South Korea win and take the full three points.

Surprising Lebanon, losers of both road matches in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, have been great at home with wins against Bangladesh and UAE. Lebanon got off to a great start against Kuwait in Beirut, striking the net from a Hassan Maatouk shot one quarter of an hour into the match. Lebanon controlled the ball for the rest of the half and led 1-0 at halftime.

Lebanon had the game won were it not for a couple of killer mistakes. A Kuwaiti free kick five minutes into the half was not threatening the goal until it was headed high by a Lebanese player onto his own far post, where it was headed down into the goal by a Kuwait player. With four minutes left in the second half, Lebanon believed themselves to have won the match after Maatouk stepped up and nailed a penalty shot after a near-paradinha run up. However, a low cross rolling toward a Kuwaiti player who actually fell down injured on the play was nevertheless turned into the Lebanese goal but a sliding defender. Lebanon and Kuwait had to navigate eight minutes of second half stoppage time after play was stopped for six minutes earlier in the half due to fireworks in the stands. Kuwait were able to escape with an undeserved 2-2 draw and remain in second place in the group.

South Korea 7 pts +7
Kuwait 5 pts +1
Lebanon 4 pts -4
UAE 0 pts -4

South Korea
Park Chu-Young 50
Ismail Hamdan 63 OG

United Arab Emirates
Ismail Matar 90+1

Hassan Maatouk 15, 86 PK

Musaed Nada 50
Mahmoud Younes 88 OG

Match Reports:


Iraq 1 - China 0; Jordan 3 - Singapore 0

Group leaders Jordan visited Singapore looking to maintain their lead atop Group A. Jordan took control from the start, scoring just ten minutes into the match. Great play from from Singapore goalkeeper Mohamad Izwan saved the match from getting out of hand. A few Jordanian chances were pushed aside, and the visitors enjoyed a mere 1-0 advantage at the break.

Jordan capitalized by scoring off a flicked-on header from a powerful free kick not quite ten minutes into the half. Nine minutes later, Ahmad Ibrahim made a mad dash through three Singapore defenders before rolling a ball into the bottom left corner of goal from 18 yards out. Jordan would hold onto to win by a 3-0 scoreline. Jordan were dominant throughout the match and look ready to assume a place among the Asian powers if their high level of play can translate into success during Round Four, a place in which they have almost assured themselves.

China welcomed Iraq into their home in Shenzhen. China applied all the early pressure, but the Iraqi defense held tough. Iraq began playing the long ball, which worked to perfection in the final minute of the first half as captain Younis Mahmoud played a great one-two-one with Mustafa Kareem, leading to a Mahmoud finish for a 1-0 lead at the half.

China were of course on the attack from the get-go in the second period, and Iraq's strategy to put up a defensive shell took a huge hit when they lost defender Basem Abbas to a second yellow card around midway through the second half. The referee should have used better discretion, for he threw Abbas out of the match merely for throwing the ball away from the spot of the Chinese corner kick a second after having been whistled for the foul. In spite of this, Iraq were able to hold strong in defense for a 1-0 road victory.

Jordan 9 pts +6
Iraq 6 pts +1
China 3 pts -1
Singapore 0 pts -6

Abd Allah Deeb 11
Anas Bani Yaseen 54
Ahmad Ibrahim 63

Younis Mahmoud 45

Match Reports:


Australia 3 - Oman 0; Thailand 0 - Saudi Arabia 0

The Socceroos of Australia welcomed last-place Oman to Sydney for Matchday Three of Round Three. Matt McKay (yellow, 17), slashed through the Oman defense seven minutes into the match and proceeded to slot a great pass across the six-yard box which was pushed home by Brett Holman. Holman and McKay again challenged for more goals later in the half, but Australia were unable to make their dominance translate into more than a 1-0 lead.

In the second period, Australia continued to push the issue. A Luke Wilshire shot was stuffed at point blank range, but Josh Kennedy (yellow, between 16 and 15) hammered home the rebound for his fourth goal in Group D play. With five minutes remaining, a Wilshire free kick completely annihilated the Oman offside trap, allowing for a beautiful volleyed goal by Mile Jedinak (yellow, 15). Australia were able to take the full three points with a resounding 3-0 victory in spite of the injury absences of Mark Schwarzer and Tim Cahill.

The tale in Bangkok was one of squandered chances galore. Thailand wanted to extend their two-point cushion over Saudi Arabia. To be fair, the visiting Saudis had the majority of those squandered chances and have a better claim to have deserved the victory. In the first half, Thailand fired the first warning shot, but it was a great clearance of the line by Thai defender Niweat Siriwong that saved Thailand from being down a goal in minute 33. The game remained scoreless into the half.

Both teams found decent opportunities in the second period, but no one was able to find the net until a late header appeared to put the Saudis in front. However, the attacker was whistled for a foul on the goalkeeper, and the match ended in a 0-0 draw, the second scoreless draw for Saudi Arabia in this group. Saudi Arabia are yet to score in the AFC Third Round.

Australia 9 pts +6
Thailand 4 pts +2
Saudi Arabia 2 pts -2
Oman 1 pts -6

Brett Holman 7
Joshua Kennedy 65
Mile Jedinak 85

Match Reports:


Uzbekistan 1 - North Korea 0; Japan 8 - Tajikistan 0

Uzbekistan paid a visit to secluded Pyongyang to take on host North Korea. North Korea once again demonstrated their defensive prowess while suffering once again from their offensive weaknesses. North Korea games are known to be low-scoring, and their first two matches in this tournament both ended with 1-0 scores. Uzbekistan found the 1-0 lead on a goal twenty-five minutes in as a long ball played from beyond midfield found Alexander Geynrikh, who finished after slaloming around two North Korean defenders.

Uzbekistan made their 1-0 halftime advantage a 1-0 fulltime advantage and secured the three points to guarantee themselves at least a tie atop the Group C standings. More importantly, they are four points ahead of North Korea and the elimination zone.

Japan hosted Tajikistan in Osaka in what turned out to be the single most dominant performance in Japanese team history. Japan controlled over 90 percent of the possession and outshot Tajikistan 39 to one. Mike Havenaar scored his first international goal to open the scoring. Japan were relentless and added three more goals before halftime.

Japan were not content with the 4-0 advantage. Four more goals popped into the Tajik net, including Havenaar's second. Japan were scoring so proficiently that a mishit cross actually accounted for the seventh tally. Japan's 8-0 win accounts for the largest margin of victory in the AFC Third Round so far.

Japan 7 pts +9
Uzbekistan 7 pts +2
North Korea 3 pts -1
Tajikistan 0 pts -10

Alexander Geynrikh 25

Mike Havenaar 11, 47
Shinji Okazaki 19, 74
Yuichi Komano 35
Shinji Kagawa 41, 68
Kengo Nakamura 56

Match Reports:

Highlights: (Uzbekistan v. North Korea)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Peru 2 - Paraguay 0

Peru played to a full home crowd at Lima as they faced Paraguay, a fellow top-three finisher at the 2011 Copa America. Paraguay were looking to shake their poor streak in competitive matches, having failed to have won on eight straight occasions since a 2-0 triumph over Slovakia in the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. In those eight matches, Paraguay had earned six draws, and the first half made it seem as though Paraguay were heading for a seventh. Elvis Marecos suffered an injury for Paraguay and had to be substituted for by Miguel Samudio (pictured, 13) before having played even the first thirty minutes as a starter. Other than that, the first half was pretty uneventful, though Peru looked the more dangerous team.

2011 Copa America Golden Boot winner Paolo Guerrero became the first of the four-headed attacking monster that is Peru to score in the 2014 FIFA World Cup two minutes after the resumption of play. Another head of the monster, Jefferson Farfan (pictured, white) stole a pass and ran up the field before giving a through ball to Guerrero, who faked Paraguay's second-string goalkeeper Diego Barreto and then chipped into the open net for 1-0. With little more than fifteen minutes remaining, Farfan again began a goal-scoring play. Farfan backheeled to the third head of the monster Claudio Pizarro, who ran all the way to the end line before turning back upfield with a delicate lifted cross that found an open Guerrero from seven yards out. Needless to say, Guerrero made it 2-0, which ended up being the final score. The fourth head of the monster, Juan Manuel Vargas, caused havoc up the left flank all match long. Paraguay go home to face Uruguay next while Peru look for road points against Chile on Tuesday.

Argentina 3 pts +3
Uruguay 3 pts +2
Peru 3 pts +2
Ecuador 3 pts +2
Colombia -- --
Bolivia 0 pts -2
Paraguay 0 pts -2
Venezuela 0 pts -2
Chile 0 pts -3

Paolo Guerrero 47, 73

Match Reports:


El Salvador 2 - Dominican Republic 1; Suriname 1 - Cayman Islands 0

El Salvador made a trip to San Cristobal to face off against the Dominican Republic, a team that have truly been a thorn in the side of the two top seeds in Group A. Ernesto Jimenez was sent to the sidelines in the 34th minute for a red card after taking down Lester Blanco as the last defender, leaving the hosts down a man for the final hour of the match. The ensuing penalty kick was converted by Osael Romero (pictured, blue) and gave the Cuscatlecos a 1-0 lead at halftime.

The Dominicans kept pressing for goals in the second half in spite of their numerical inferiority. Jonathan Faña threaded a perfect through ball to Erick Ozuna, who found the netting for an equalizer nine minutes after the restart. El Salvador eventually won 2-1 on a goal midway through the half that held up against the desperate counterattacks of their foes. El Salvador win for the third time in three qualifiers, yet none of their performances have been convincing and the fans are left worrying whether such form will suffice in the two matches against Suriname in November. First, El Salvador need to take their match in four days' time at home to Cayman Islands.

Suriname paid a trip to Georgetown to take on the Cayman Islands, knowing that a win would be needed to remain within two points of group leaders El Salvador. Suriname had scored exactly one goal in each of its first two qualifiers, a pattern which continued today. The goal, however, did not make its appearance in the first period.

Suriname found its solitary goal a dozen minutes into the second half. Cayman goalkeeper Miguel Pitta was ejected for a red card in the 87th minute, leaving the Cayman Islands down a goal and down a man needing a tie to avoid elimination. The Cayman Islands were unable to find a goal as they had against El Salvador at home, so they suffered their second one-goal shutout loss to Suriname in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Suriname and El Salvador have both played below expectations in this group, yet both sides continue to have great chances to advance after having eliminated their two fellow group members with three matchdays remaining.

El Salvador 9 pts +5
Suriname 7 pts +2
Dominican Republic 1 pts -2
Cayman Islands 0 pts -5

El Salvador
Osael Romero 38 PK
Lester Blanco 67

Dominican Republic
Erick Ozuna 54

Giovanni Drenthe 57

Match Reports:

Highlights: (El Salvador v. Dominican Republic)

Puerto Rico 1 - St. Kitts and Nevis 1; Canada 7 - St. Lucia 0

Canada paid a visit to the tropical Caribbean island of St. Lucia, but it was strictly for business. When the Canucks took to the pitch at Gros Islet, the objective was clear: win. Norwich City striker Simeon Jackson (pictured) had his best international performance, scooping up a first-half hat trick in a twenty-minute span. Canada took a 4-0 lead into the second half.

Canada continued to assault St. Lucia's goal. Three more goals were scored to give Canada a 7-0 final scoreline in their favor. Not all went well for Canada, however. Will Johnson had to be subbed off in the seventeenth minute due to an ankle sprain and will be the Puerto Rico match on Tuesday. After suffering this massive drubbing at home, St. Lucia have been eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

A result that Canada loved seeing came out of the match between hosts Puerto Rico and visiting St. Kitts and Nevis in Bayamon. The two sides played to a scoreless draw in their first meeting, and Puerto Rico had yet to score in the competition.

Canada 9 pts +13
St. Kitts 5 pts +2
Puerto Rico 2 pts -3
St. Lucia 0 pts -12

Simeon Jackson 19, 27, 39
Oliver Occean 35, 52
Iain Hume 73, 86

Puerto Rico
Andres Cabrero 34

St. Kitts and Nevis
Ian Lake 58

Match Reports:


Antigua and Barbuda 1 - Curacao 0; Haiti 7 - U.S. Virgin Islands 0

The U.S. Virgin Islands, playing at home in Frederiksted, needed to avoid defeat to avoid becoming the first CONCACAF team to be eliminated from the round two of qualifying. This was not to be, however, as Haiti's squad of professionals thrashed the U.S. Virgin Islands in spite of Dillon Pieffer's (pictured, #1) eleven saves in the first half. Haiti scored twice in the first eleven minutes, but had to settle for just a 2-0 lead at halftime.

Haiti showed no mercy in the second half, however, and the Haitians rained in five goals, including two off penalty kicks. Jean-Eudes Maurice of French Ligue 1 side Lens put in a hat trick performance. Another proof of Haiti's dominance was the fact that it won fifteen corner kicks while only facing two shots on goal during the match. The 7-0 loss spelled the end of the qualification hopes for the Virgin Islanders, though they still have three matches to look forward to playing.

Curacao have yet to secure a FIFA World Cup point under their new moniker, and perhaps the magic of the Netherlands Antilles name has escaped them for good. The crowd in Willemstad was hoping for a positive result for the home side against visiting Antigua and Barbuda. The match between the two sides in St. John's went 5-2 to Antigua. The first half today went to no one, 0-0.

Antigua, knowing that a win would be necessary to keep pace with Haiti, pushed a goal across the line with just over fifteen minutes left in the match that proved to be the only score of the day. Antigua wins the match 1-0. Curacao, after dropping their second home game of the tournament, have been sent packing from the 2014 FIFA World Cup, though they still have three games left on the schedule, including two against fellow eliminated U.S. Virgin Islands.

Haiti 9 pts +15
Antigua 9 pts +11
Curacao 0 pts -6
USVI 0 pts -20

Jean Eudes Maurice 5, 65, 82 PK
Kim Jaggy 11
Reginal Goreaux 57, 64
Kervens Belfort 73 PK

Antigua and Barbuda
Tamarley Thomas 74

Match Reports:

Bermuda 2 - Trinidad and Tobago 1; Guyana 2 - Barbados 0

Guyana paid a visit to Barbados in Bridgetown today, Guyana's first venture to the road in the tournament. Guyana knew a win would likely be necessary to keep pace with Trinidad and Tobago at the top of Group B. The two teams played to a scoreless first half.

Guyana really wanted a result on the road. They substituted Anthony Abrams into the match and he delivered the opening goal with under twenty minutes to play. Chris Nurse added the second to give with under five minutes left in the match to give Guyana a 2-0 lead and control of Group B. As a result of their loss today, Barbados have been eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup with three games remaining on their schedule, making them the second casualty of the day after the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nurse is suspended for Guyana's upcoming venture into Bermuda on Tuesday due to accumulation of yellow cards.

Trinidad and Tobago made the trip to Hamilton to take on Bermuda without striker Kenwyne Jones, the man who had scored the only goal in Trinidad's 1-0 over Bermuda at home on Matchday One of the CONCACAF Second Round. On 15 June 2008, Bermuda shocked the world by winning 2-1 at Trinidad. Today, Bermuda shocked the world again. Trinidad started slowly, thereby allowing Bermuda to get comfortable in the match. An odd occurrence in the thirtieth minute led to the red card expulsion of Bermuda's Tahj Bell, who was on the bench at the time of the incident. A Bermuda shot from Lashun Dill that rocked the crossbar seemed to signal a warning to Trinidad that today might not be theirs. Trinidad escaped unscathed into the locker room after forty-five minutes, but this was not to last.

Bermuda capitalized on two separate mistakes at the back of the Soca Warriors defense for their two goals. The first came eight minutes after the restart when Taurean Manders stole a back at the back and slotted a pass for an Antwan Russell finish. The second came ten minutes after the first when a beautiful cross by Kwame Steede was first-timed into the net by Nahki Wells. Trinidad and Tobago kept fighting, and it seemed they may have started to gain the upper hand. A free kick scramble led to Trinidad's opener with just under ten minutes to play. Trinidad defender Julius James had a shot cleared off the line. Another Trinidad chance was muffed in the box, and the final one curl wide past the post, allowing Bermuda to collect its first three points of the tournament and to dream of survival as they remain at home to welcome group leaders Guyana next Tuesday.

Guyana 9 pts +5
Trinidad 6 pts +2
Bermuda 3 pts -1
Barbados 0 pts -6

Anthony Abrams 73
Chris Nurse 87

Antwan Russell 53
Nahki Wells 63

Trinidad and Tobago
Kevin Molino 81

Match Reports:

Match Previews:

Argentina 4 - Chile 1

Argentina began their 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign at home in Buenos Aires, where they welcomed a Chile side missing Alexis Sanchez. Argentina looked to make it three wins out of three for home sides in CONMEBOL, and they made a great start when a perfectly threaded pass from midfield by Angel di Maria landed at the feet of Gonzalo Higuain inside the box. The finish was of high quality, and Argentina led 1-0. Not quite twenty minutes later, Higuain returned the favor with a through ball that found both di Maria and Lionel Messi (pictured, 10) wide open in the box. Messi slotted home for the 2-0 lead that persisted to halftime.

Higuain added his second goal seven minutes after the restart after half-volleying a di Maria cross with his left foot. Argentina's 3-0 was cut to 3-1 seven minutes later after a series of strange bounces led to an easy shot, but Argentina restored the margin when Higuain completed his hat trick four minutes after Chile's opener. Messi stole a pass from the Chilean goalkeeper and then played a two-man goal with Higuain, who notched a goal that hit the upper ninety from the penalty spot. The match was supposed to be the match of the day in World Cup qualifying, but Argentina simply outclassed their neighbors and fully deserved the 4-1 win. Argentina look to become the first road team to win in South America when they go to face Venezuela on Tuesday, whereas Chile hope that the home field advantage will allow them to get a result against suddenly hot Peru.

Gonzalo Higuain 8, 52, 63
Lionel Messi 26

Matias Fernandez 59

Match Reports:


Grenada 4 - Belize 1; Guatemala 3 - St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0

Guatemala visited St. Vincent and the Grenadines looking to further confirm its superiority over its three rivals in Group E. After winning its first matches against the Vincy Heat 4-0, the Chapines sought a similar result in Kingstown. The Vincy Heat held tough, but Mario Rodriguez deflated the crowd with a goal just before halftime to give Guatemala a 1-0 lead at the break.

Rodriguez doubled the lead a dozen minutes after the restart, and Guatemala found a third goal with a quarter hour remaining in the contest. St. Vincent were unable to put any goal on the board for their home fans and now must hope for three matchdays of miracles in order to qualify to the next round. Guatemala lead the group by six points.

Grenada paid a visit to Belize at their national stadium in Belmopan. The Spice Boyz, owners of zero points so far in group play, wished to make amends for their loss at home to Belize the previous month. It is safe to say that amends were made. Belize's defense looked a step slower than it had in its previous four qualifiers, and the Spice Boyz made them pay dearly. An uncontested shot from the left side of the penalty area came eight minutes before the half and was closely followed by a second after a weak cross elicited a poor clearance from a Belize centerback, allowing for an easy putaway by Grenada for a 2-0 halftime advantage.

Grenada wasted little time adding a third, waiting a mere five minutes. The Spice Boyz surely must wonder where their top form had escaped to during their first two matches because today was a devastating display from the 2011 Gold Cup participants. Clive Murray, the first Grenada player to score in a Gold Cup, added the fourth for a 4-0 ten minutes from time. Belize pulled a consolation goal back at the end of regulation, giving Grenada a final scoreline 4-1 in their favor.

Guatemala 9 pts +8
Grenada 3 pts -1
Belize 3 pts -1
St. Vincent 3 pts -6

Mario Rodriguez 44, 57
Dwight Pezzarossi 75

Shane Rennie 37
Marcus Julien 41
Lancaster Joseph 50
Clive Murray 80

Ryan Simpson 90

Match Reports:

Match Highlights:

Panama 5 - Dominica 0

Dominica played their second and final home game of Group C today at home in Roseau. Group favorites Panama rolled into town having won their previous road qualifier at Nicaragua. Panama took a while to get going, but once they opened their account, the goals poured in to Dominica's net. The first came with twenty minutes left in the first half, the second but eight minutes later. Panama led 2-0 at the break.

Panama took ten minutes to score to open up a 3-0 lead. Seven minutes after that, it was 4-0. With two minutes left in the match, Panama struck yet again to all but wrap up the group title with a 5-0 win. Panama need a win at home to Nicaragua on Tuesday in order to advance to the CONCACAF Third Round.

Panama 6 pts +6
Nicaragua 3 pts +1
Dominica 0 pts -7

Amir Waithe 26, 88
Luis Tejada 34
Blas Perez 55
Ricardo Buitrago 62

Match Reports:

Ecuador 2 - Venezuela 0

Ecuador may have been insulted by Venezuela's decision to send its "B" team into the altitude at Quito and save its best squad for Argentina next Tuesday. Let's hope for Venezuela's sake that they do not make such a foolish decision again. Ecuador were anything but gracious hosts and quite honestly deserved the win the match by a much wider margin were it not for the valiant efforts of Venezuela goalkeeper Renny Vega. Alas, the hubris of La Vinotinto's manager Cesar Farias was punished by the soccer gods. Antonio Valencia of Manchester United absolutely annihilated the Venezuelans by consistently driving down their right flank against minimal resistance. Ecuador scored a well-deserved opener after Valencia's cross was headed off the far post by Cristian Suarez and the rebound bounced perfectly for Jaime Ayovi (pictured, 17 in yellow) to head the ball home at the quarter hour mark. The lead was doubled when another Valencia cross this time found the head of unmarked Chucho Benitez on the six-yard line. Ecuador's goalkeeper Maximo Banguera (pictured, white in hat) made a great save on a free kick from Jose Manuel Rey (pictured, 3 in maroon) at full stretch. Ecuador took the 2-0 lead into the break.

There was to be no repeat of Rey's heroics from 2007 when a midfield free kick provided the only goal in a 1-0 Venezuela victory. In fact, captain Rey received a second yellow card and was ejected in minute 78, his second card in six minutes. The card did not affect the game, however, as Venezuela had no ideas on offense and Ecuador appeared content with the result. The 2-0 scoreline boosts Ecuador's morale as they go into their rest day, whereas Venezuela look rather stupid for saving their "A" team for their home match against Argentina in four days' time.

Jaime Ayovi 15
Cristian Benitez 28

Match Reports:


Uruguay 4 - Bolivia 2

Uruguay got to start off its qualifying campaign with the simplest assignment in CONMEBOL: Bolivia at home in Montevideo. An unexpected twist came in the form of a rainy day. However, Uruguay were not flustered by the rain nor the expectations of an easy victory, and an early corner kick ran from Diego Forlan was sent into the box, were the ball skidded, colliding with Diego Lugano, and fell to Luis Suarez (pictured, 9) who slotted home for the opener. Bolivia responded within fifteen minutes after a good through ball led to a goal that Rudy Cardozo chipped in off the far post over an oncoming Fernando Muslera slide. Uruguay regained the lead after a long free kick from Forlan was redirected by captain Lugano's head into the upper ninety for 2-1. Just ten minutes after their second, Uruguay struck again when Maxi Pereira sent a cross in from the right side of the field that landed on Edison Cavani's head, leading to a headed goal for a 3-1 halftime lead.

In the second half, Uruguay extended the lead to 4-1 off a miscue from Bolivia's goalkeeper after a Forlan free kick was muffed for a rebound. Lugano converted his second goal by pouncing on the rebound before teammate Diego Godin (pictured, 3) could tap in the rebound. Bolivia scored on a late penalty to round out the scoring in Uruguay's 4-2 victory. Uruguay next travel to Paraguay on Tuesday while Bolivia go home to face Colombia that same day.

Luis Suarez 4
Diego Lugano 26, 72
Edison Cavani 35

Rudy Cardozo 18


Monday, October 3, 2011

Preview: South America

For the first time since the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification cycle, the ten-team single-group format for CONMEBOL qualifying will be reduced to nine teams. Brasil missed the 1998 qualifiers having already qualified for France 1998 as winners of United States of America 1994. This time around, Brasil have already qualified as the host country in 2014. With the absence of Brasil, Colombia will get Matchday One off, while Ecuador will be off playing a friendly with the United States of America during Matchday Two. The other seven countries will be experiencing an exhilarating doubleheader to open up the 2014 FIFA World Cup for CONMEBOL.

Hopes are running high as an unprecedented number of South American sides could be among the thirty-two teams at Brasil 2014. Four direct entries are available to the nine-team group, meaning that including Brasil the FIFA World Cup finals will include at least five South American teams. However, a sixth team is likely to come as the winner of the intercontinental playoff between AFC's fifth-place team and CONMEBOL's fifth-place team. Hopes abound around the continent except in Bolivia, the only team not expected to have any legitimate shot at reaching Brasil 2014. The previews for each team will be listed in order of expected finish in the group.

1. Uruguay can count on a star-studded frontline, with Liverpool (England) striker Luis Suarez, Inter Milan striker Diego Forlan, and Napoli goal machine Edinson Cavani wreaking havoc throughout qualifying. Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray) will man the goal with captain and center back Diego Lugano (Paris Saint Germain) providing cover alongside young standout Sebastian Coates (Liverpool, England). Maxi Pereira (Benfica) covers the right flank and Martin Caceres (Sevilla) mans the left. Maxi's namesake Alvaro "Palo" Pereira (Porto) covers the left side of midfield, though Alvaro can be slotted in as a left back, too. Midfield stalwart Egidio Arevalo Rios (Tijuana) may be the only starter not playing in Europe. As defensive midfielders, Uruguay are likely to employ Diego "Ruso" Perez (Bologna) and Walter Gargano (Napoli), though exciting youngster Nicolas Lodeiro (Ajax Amsterdam) is likely to push his way into the lineup at some point during the qualifying cycle. Cristian "Cebolla" Rodriguez (Porto) could also make noise out of the midfield. Defensively, center back Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid) will get playing time as he returns to health, as should Porto fullback and 2010 FIFA World Cup hero Jorge Fucile. Talismanic forward Sebastian "Loco" Abreu (Botafogo) may also get playing time off the bench. Expect the fans at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo to experience many happy times during the 2014 FIFA World Cup as their coach Oscar Tabarez leads the Celeste to further glory.

2. Argentina would love nothing more than to win their third FIFA World Cup with rivals Brasil hosting. Argentina and Uruguay are clearly a notch above the other teams participating in CONMEBOL qualifying. The obvious key to success for Argentina's hopes is Lionel Messi (Barcelona), the best soccer player on Earth at the current moment. What has held the Albiceleste back is a lack of production from highly rated players such as Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), and Javier Pastore (Paris Saint Germain). Tevez has missed the roster for the first doubleheader. However, Sergio "Kun" Aguero (Manchester City) has been in good form lately, as has Rodrigo Palacio of Genoa, and attacking midfielder Angel di Maria (Real Madrid) always is a dangerous force for the national side. Argentina are always one of the deepest and most talented teams and should be picking up full points against the teams listed 6-9 on this list both home and away with ease. The goalkeeper is solid with Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), and his defense in front of him is exquisite with centerbacks Martin Demichelis (Malaga) and Nicolas Otamendia (Porto) and fullbacks Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Nicolas Burdisso (Roma) and the young Marcos Rojo (Spartak Moscow). The only problem area for Argentina seems to be the defensive midfield. Captain Javier Mascherano (Barcelona) is solid, but Ever Banega (Valencia) had an awful Copa America in which he gifted Bolivia its opening goal with a whiffed clearance.

3. Venezuela have a golden generation entering the beginning of its prime years, though unlike the golden generation unearthed by Ecuador for the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups, Venezuela's may be longer-lasting as the sporting climate in the country shifts more attention and resources to soccer. No matter the case, this is certainly the best chance La Vinotinto have ever had to qualify for FIFA's flagship event. People have overlooked the fact that Venezuela were but one head-to-head goal away from advancing to the intercontinental playoffs in place of Uruguay during the previous cycle in spite of their miserable form in 2008. Venezuela's strongest lineup is comprised of goalkeeper Renny Vega (Caracas), left back Gabriel Cichero (Lens), center backs Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Olimpo) and Grenndy Perozo (Boyaca Chico), right back Roberto Rosales (Twente), left winger and captain Juan Arango (Monchengladbach), center midfielders Franklin Lucena (Caracas) and Tomas Rincon (Hamburg), right winger Cesar "Maestrico" Gonzalez (Gimnasia), and forwards Nicolas "Miku" Fedor (Getafe) and young star Salomon Rondon (Malaga). Other players to look forward to seeing include "altitude-team" goalkeeper Rafa Romo (Udinese), young defenders Sema Velazquez (Tachira), Jose Luis Granados (Real Esppor), former captain and centerback Jose Manuel Rey (Lara), electric midfielders Ronald Vargas (Anderlecht), Yohandry Orozco (Wolfsburg), and Luis Manuel Seijas (Standard Liege), steady defensive midfielder Giacomo di Giorgi (Anzoategui), and lastly backup forwards Giancarlo Maldonado (Atlante), the team's all-time goal scorer, Alejandro Moreno (Chivas USA), and Daniel Arismendi (Anzoategui). Teams will absolutely fear granting free kicks to Venezuela with the sublime left foot of Arango, the half-field power shot of Rey, and the heading ability of Vizcarrondo.

Venezuela take the unorthodox approach when it comes to visiting high altitude locations like Ecuador, Bolivia, and possibly Peru. The coaching staff of Cesar Farias elects to take a team of primarily young players from the Venezuelan league into these matches while saving the strength of the primary squad players for the other match in the doubleheader by not forcing them to re-acclimate to sea level conditions. Venezuela won at Bolivia 1-0 using this strategy in the previous cycle, and the strategy will immediately come into play on Matchday One when Venezuela visit Ecuador at altitude. Hope is also being placed upon some high-profile players who have finally chosen to play for La Vinotinto over other national teams, including defenders Fernando Amorebieta (Atletic Bilbao), defender Rolf Feltscher (Parma), and midfielder Frank Feltscher (Grasshopper).

4. Chile were the epitome of an attacking team during the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament, though with the departure of super coach Marcelo Bielsa, work remains to be done to return to the high levels he achieved. The 2010 FIFA World Cup squad was magnificent in attack, but the defense was vulnerable to the counterattacks from stronger opponents. Super creative forward Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona) has the world abuzz with his skill and his strike partner Humberto "Chupete" Suazo of Monterrey led all CONMEBOL scorers with ten goals in the 2010 qualifying campaign. However, Sanchez willing be missing in action for La Roja for the first round of qualifiers through injury. In the midfield, Chile feature the defensive Arturo Vidal (Juventus) and Gary Medel (Valencia), the attacking Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras) and Matias Fernandez (Sporting Lisbon), left winger Mark Gonzalez (CSKA Moscow), left winger Jean Beausejour (Birmingham City). At fullback we find Gonzalo Jara of West Brom Albiom, Pablo Contreras (P.A.O.K.), and Mauricio Isla (Udinese) with Cruz Azul's Waldo Ponce playing as centerback. Captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo plays for Real Sociedad. Will we see Chile stick to its exciting three-defender formation in order to better exploit its limitless attacking talent or will there be a return to the modern norm of four men back?

5. Paraguay made the final of the Copa America, but they finished with only five points earned out of six matches, a haul that would leave them well off the pace for qualification were it to happen during the qualifying group. The Albirroja should fare well at the Estadio Defensores del Chaco in Asuncion, but will it be enough for direct qualification or will Paraguay face a playoff scenario against a team like Uzbekistan? One man that the entire country can count on is goalkeeper and captain Justo Villar (Estudiantes de la Plata), the most stellar player in the 2011 Copa America. How this man is not playing for a massive European team is beyond explanation. Protecting Villar are Aureliano Torres (Toluca) to his left, and the trio of Dario Veron (UNAM Pumas), Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan), and Paulo da Silva (Real Zaragoza). The team's attacking force has not been the same since Salvador Cabañas was shot in the head in 2010, ending his career. However, Roque Santa Cruz (Real Betis) and Nelson Haedo Vazquez (Rubin Kazan) got the job done as the team made the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Oscar Cardozo (Benfica) and Argentina-born Lucas Barrios (Dortmund) provided more options for a team that really should produce more goals than it does given its offensive talent. The team produced precisely zero goals in five knockout games at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and 2011 Copa America. In the midfield, Paraguay feature Edgar Barreto (Palermo) centrally, Osvaldo Martinez (Atlante) on the right, and Marcelo Estigarribia on the left. Defensive midfielders include Enrique Vera (LDU Quito), Victor Caceres (Libertad)., and Argentina-born Nestor Ortigoza (San Lorenzo, Argentina). Other midfielders include the Kayserispor pair of Cristian Riveros and Argentina-born Johnathan Santana.

6. Colombia are a frustrating side. Los Cafeteros are overloaded with attacking talent with players like Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid), Dayro Moreno (Tijuana), Guillermo Cuadrado (Lecce), Hugo Rodallega (Wigan), and Jackson Martinez (Jaguares de Chiapas), yet the offense always seems to fail at crucial moments. We point to Dayro Moreno's miss on an open net that would have given Colombia a 1-0 victory over Argentina at the 2011 Copa America, as well as Falcao's missed penalty that would have given Colombia a 1-0 victory over Peru at the 2011 Copa America. Hope can be placed in midfielder Fredy Guarin of Porto who played exceptionally well in the 2011 Copa America and striker Teofilo Gutierrez of Racing (Argentina) to finally provide much needed scoring help. The return from injury of attacker Giovanni Moreno (Racing, Argentina) may very well provide the spark Colombia need to shake the cobwebs off the offense. If all else fails, Colombia should take a look at Seattle Sounders forward Fredy Montero. The team's defense is stout with centerbacks Luis Perea (Atletico Madrid) and Mario Yepes (AC Milan), left back Pablo Armero (America de Cali), and right back Camilo Zuñiga (Napoli), but 0-0 draws will not get a team into Brasil 2014. Other players to look for include midfielder Abel Aguilar (Hercules) and midfielder Yulian Anchico (Sante Fe, Colombia).

7. Peru were the supposed revelation of the 2011 Copa America, but many viewers were not sold on their potential as a force in South American qualifying. The team were lucky to advance to extra time scoreless in their quarterfinal and were soundly beaten in the semifinal by Uruguay. In fact, their only regulation time win was 1-0 against Mexico's youth squad. The Estadio Nacional in Lima is a home to many surprise results for the Peruvians, but going on the road to pick up results has been a problem plaguing Peru since the team last made the FIFA World Cup finals in 1982. Former star striker Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen) is back on the rise and should mesh well with the 2011 Copa America Golden Boot winner Paolo Guerrero (Hamburg) and attacking midfielder and captain Juan Manuel Vargas (Fiorentina). The fourth member of a potent attack is Jefferson Farfan (Schalke 04) , back after missing the Copa America roster. Supporting the attack from midfield will be Luis Advincula and Carlos Lobaton of Sporting Cristal and the diminutive William Chiroque (Juan Aurich). In defense, Peru feature veteran centerback Santiago Acasiete (Almeria) and two more Sporting Cristal players, Walter Vilchez and Renzo Revoredo. A weak link exists at goalkeeper, and Peru must choose between Raul Fernandez (Universitario, Peru) and Leao Butron (Universidad de San Martin).

8. Ecuador have fallen on hard times recently and along with Bolivia were the only two CONMEBOL sides to miss the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. The Estadio Atahualpa in Quito was a veritable fortress for Ecuador during the peak of its golden generation, but Venezuela and Uruguay both cracked the code during the last qualification cycle, and Colombia and Brasil garnered draws. Gone are Carlos Tenorio, Ivan Kaviedes, and Ivan Hurtado. It is unlikely that Argentina-born goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga (Deportivo Quito) will last for the whole qualification cycle as he approaches age forty. Ecuador's strength is its midfield. Christian Noboa (Rubin Kazan), Edison Mendez (Emelec), captain and left winger Walter Ayovi (Monterrey), Michael Arroyo (San Luis), Cristian Suarez (Santos Laguna), and Segundo Castillo (Pachuca) make up the midfield, with the last four plying their trade in Mexico. Fellow Mexican leaguers Jaime Ayovi (Pachuca) and Christian "Chucho" Benitez (Club America, Mexico) also play in Mexico. Neicer Reasco (LDU Quito) plays right back on the makeshift backline that should be expected to hemorrhage goals, especially away from home. The two stars on this team are forward Felipe Caicedo (Lokomotiv Moscow) and the country's best player, right winger Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, but they will not be enough to lead this team to qualification.

9. Bolivia will be hoping to achieve a miracle qualification with some stellar play from striker Marcelo Moreno Martins (Shaktar Donetsk) and center back Ronald Raldes (Colon de Santa Fe). The team is not very deep. Brazilian-born Edivaldo Hoyos (Atletico Paranaense) will support Moreno up top. The diminutive Joselito Vaca (Oriente Petrolero) will serve as a poor man's Messi feeding his club teammate Juan Carlos Arce, and another club teammate Miguel Hoyos will be the right back. Midfielder Ronald Garcia (Aris) is a rare player based overseas. Santos Amador (Nacional Potosi) will also play in defense in front of goalkeeper Carlos Arias (Cordoba, Spain). Bolivia will not be able to match up with any team on the road and will be looking to avoid the cellar with solid results at home at the Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz.

On Matchday One, the first of the region's seventy-two matches (seventy-four counting the intercontinental playoffs) pits heavyweights and defending Copa America champions Uruguay at home to Bolivia in what promises to be the most lopsided matchup of the seventy-two. Venezuela will be looking to repeat the shock road upset of Ecuador that they managed in 2007. Argentina will be looking to establish themselves as second favorites from the start of the campaign when they face third favorites Chile at home. The nightcap features two teams that will be looking to snag fourth or fifth place in the group. Peru will host Copa America finalists Paraguay, though both teams' high final positions in the 2011 Copa America were not indicative of their level of play throughout the tournament, and their deficiencies will be exposed during a long qualifying campaign.

Matchday Two pits Bolivia at home against Colombia, a team which will have had extra time to prepare for the altitude due to their bye in the first set of matches. Chile then will host Peru, a match which would seem to give a good indication of whether Peru is a legitimate threat for Brasil 2014. The final two matches pit Paraguay at home against Uruguay and Venezuela at home to Argentina. These two matches will be opportunities for Paraguay and Venezuela to prove that they have the strength to handle their heavyweight opponents, at the very least on home soil.

Matchday One: Uruguay defeat Bolivia, Venezuela defeat Ecuador, Argentina defeat Chile, Paraguay tie Peru

Matchday Two: Bolivia tie Colombia, Chile defeat Peru, Paraguay tie Uruguay, Argentina defeat Venezuela


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