With only two rounds remaining until the conclusion of two years of South American qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, only Brazil and Paraguay have booked their tickets to South Africa.
The past week of action has been some of the most dramatic of the entire competition, with several surprising results. Argentina lost both of its games, and is in real danger of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1970. Meanwhile, Chile is almost there, and Ecuador and Uruguay have renewed their hopes. Here are five things we learned this past week:
Brazil was without several of its biggest stars, including
To win the World Cup, you need depth and Brazil has it. If you can call them "bench warmers," guys like hat-trick hero
After the win over Chile, Dunga complained about the "criticism" his team received from the fans at the Pituaçu stadium in Salvador after the visitors drew even. He recalled that earlier in its campaign, Brazil struggled a great deal, and some were even calling for his head. Back then, all he asked for was patience and more time and eventually, things would work themselves out. Luckily the Brazilian federation had confidence in him, because Dunga rectified the situation perfectly and now should be considered one of the best coaches in the business. Could the same happen to
When Maradona was hired as Argentina manager last October, he never would have imagined the kind of pressure he's receiving now. Most thought becoming a coach would be a smooth transition for him, particularly because they figured Maradona was multitalented and capable of achieving pretty much anything (much like record-breaking FC Barcelona boss
But his lack of understanding of the tactical side of the game was on display in defeats to both Brazil and Paraguay over the past week. Against the Paraguayans, he brought on
The bottom line is Maradona still has a lot to learn to be an "acceptable" coach and, with only two matches left in World Cup qualifying, Argentina is in serious jeopardy of missing out on South Africa. The Argentines face Peru and Uruguay next month and, while they're expected to beat Peru at home, facing Uruguay in Montevideo is less of a given. The River Plate derby has the potential to decide which of the two teams will finish in fifth place and advance to the playoff against the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF over two legs in October (Costa Rica is currently in that position).
Ecuador is a firm lock to finish as the fourth-place team of South America and essentially the final team to gain direct entry to the World Cup. The Ecuadorians proved their authority in a comfortable victory over Bolivia (yes, Argentina, in the high altitude of La Paz) that puts them in a good position to reach the World Cup for a third straight time.
Venezuela is back in contention for a first World Cup appearance after picking up four points in its last two matches.