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Soccer World Cup

World Cup Qualifying: CONMEBOL Preview

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World Cup Qualifying Stage: CONMEBOL

World Cup
Image courtesy of the FIFA World Cup Official Facebook Page

Regarded by experts as the toughest qualifier all over the world, the South American road to the World Cup next year is almost over. And with only two matches left to be played, only Argentina have secured their place in Brazil for 2014.

The CONMEBOL qualifiers are complicated due to the long schedule (the 10 teams play two times against each other, giving a total of 18 matches by each team in three years) and the various conditions of each country (altitude, hot weather, torrential rain or cold temperatures according to each station). But at the same time, all these characteristics create a unique atmosphere where rivalries and matches in general have an intensity and a quality that’s not repeated anywhere else.

Since Brazil are hosting the World Cup next year, only nine teams are participating in the qualifier, which means that every team has two bye weeks in their schedule.

So far, everything is very even in the standings. After 14 matches played, only Argentina are qualified while Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia have no chance to participate in the tournament. This means that Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela will battle for the final three and a half spots in the remaining two games, with some teams having quite more chances than others.

The following slideshow will preview the first four matches that will be played on Friday. Four exciting matches will take place all over South America, and the picture might end up being clearer once all the games are over.

Juan Pablo Aravena is a soccer writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @jparavenarant or add him to your network on Google

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Bye Week: Bolivia

Bolivia
Jason Watson - USA Today Sports

The Bolivian side will rest this week, but they are not going to have much effect in the standings as they have zero chance to get to Brazil’s tournament. Los Altiplanicos will end up being in another disappointing qualifier on Tuesday next week when they will visit Peru.

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Venezuela vs. Paraguay

Paraguay
Don McPeak - USA Today Sports

Venezuela will play their final chance on Friday as they will have their bye week next Tuesday. Although a lot of things should click for them to maintain their chances alive, the first step is to defeat a Paraguayan side that’s already eliminated. Venezuela will need to score seven or more goals to extend their possibilities towards the final match day.

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Colombia vs. Chile

Chile
GEPA/USA TODAY Sports

Two sides that are in the top-four will face each other in Barranquilla, where Jose Pekerman’s men will try to lock up their place in Brazil as they take on a resurgent Chilean side. Alexis Sanchez and company have won four of their last five matches though, so there’s a lot of skepticism regarding a possible favorite. The team that comes out on top after this match will secure their place in Brazil, while a draw isn’t a bad result for Colombia, who could still qualify with only one point.

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Ecuador vs. Uruguay

Uruguay
Presse Sports - USA Today Sports

With Ecuador sitting fourth and Uruguay one spot behind them, this matchup appears vital for both sides. Los Charruas need the three points to get themselves into direct qualifying zone while the hosts will try to take advantage of Quito’s altitude to take a giant leap towards a spot in the next year’s World Cup.

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Argentina vs. Peru

Argentina
Jim O'Connor - USA Today Sports

Argentina will have a lot of missing players for this fixture as Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain among others will be unavailable for the match against Peru. The visitors are already eliminated and might start a rebuilding process towards a probable qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.