After a rough start with 4 points out of a possible 12, destiny smiled on Colombia’s national team. Two wins in two games in March (3-2 vs. Bolivia and 3-1 vs. Ecuador), and moreover, a great performance in the last match.
Barranquilla was witness to the best game played so far in the 2018 qualifiers by the “Amarilla”. James, Bacca, Cuadrado and the rest showed their value and made it look easy to win against Ecuador, who prior to meeting “the yellows”, and registering their first defeat, had been the competition leader.
It was a perfect afternoon for Pekerman and his boys, and since the start of the game it was clear they were more comfortable playing off the pitch than their rival. They didn’t abuse ball control like other times; instead, they went for fast transitions on the midfield and counted on multiple scoring opportunities. Also, Puerto Colombia native, Carlos Bacca had a great performance and was the scorer of two of the Colombian goals. The other goal was made by Sebastian Perez, who just turned 23 years old and gave himself the best birthday present.
Ecuador couldn’t sustain the passing and ball control they showed in their first games; they seemed to be overwhelmed by the pressure strategy that the Cafeteros had on the defense, and when Ecuador got through, they found an unbreakable wall on the two home central backs, Murillo and Zapata. The team led by Quinteros only got the ball and some chances towards the end, after the game had already been defined for Colombia. At the 89 minute mark Michal Arroyo scored a free kick and put his team on the scoreboard, an insignificant goal in the end resulting in one place less for Colombia.
The positions on the table have changed a bit after these two games, but it is still too early to make any final conclusions. At 13 points, Uruguay is now at the top of the standings alongside Ecuador with the same number of points. Just behind in third place is Argentina with 11. The “Albicelestes” were the only team besides Colombia that managed to win both games played in March. Closing the top five and the qualification/play-off slots with 10 points each are Chile (4th) and Colombia (5th). Partially out of the party, but still very close are Brazil (6th) and Paraguay (7th) each with nine points. A bit further away, at the bottom of the table in 8th place is Peru with four, Bolivia with three and in tenth position is Venezuela with only one point.
South American World Cup Qualifications
Matchday 6 results
Colombia 3-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-0 Peru
Venezuela 1-4 Chile
Argentina 2-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-2 Brazil
Bonus Olympics Games Qualification Series
Second leg: USA 1-2 Colombia
Roger Martinez was the hero of the second leg of the playoff series between Colombia and the US. The Cartagena native scored the two goals that settled the game and set the qualification for his team to move to the Olympics for the first time in 24 years.
After an excellent result in Barranquilla (1-1 with the advantage of an away goal) the Stars and Stripes couldn’t sustain their tactics and suffered a sure loss to Colombia. The visitors needed to score at least one goal to negate what the Americans did in Colombia, so the coach put an offensive lineup on the field, a decision which paid off well.
The US on the other hand, over trusted the partial advantage and opted to play defensively with counter attacks, a strategy that left them clear out of scoring options for most of the game.
Racing Club striker Martinez scored the first goal of the game in the mid first half (29 minutes) and from then on, Colombia maintained possession and control. The host got a partial equalizer when Colombian defender Deiver Machado (56 min) scored an incredible self-goal surprising the American crowd who up until then hadn’t figured out how to tie the game. But the joy didn’t last long for the North Americans because the final goal came a couple of minutes later (63 min), with Martinez again putting his name on the board in an incredible and definitive goal. The final minutes were a nightmare for the hosts, who lost complete ability to play and ended up with expulsions of two of their best players, Luis Gil (77) and Matthew Miazga (90) due to unsportsman-like aggresiveness.
The Olympics will be held in Rio from August 5th until the 21st, and the draw that will determine the groups for the competition will be on April 14th at Estadio Maracaná.