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CONMEBOL playoff spot goes down to wire

Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay have already secured CONMEBOL’s four direct spots for the World Cup in Qatar later this year, but there’s still a lot at stake in the final round of South American qualifying on Tuesday.

The biggest prize is the intercontinental playoff spot against an Asian team as Peru (21 points), Colombia (20) and Chile (19) chase fifth place. That playoff in June is likely to be against Australia, United Arab Emirates or Iraq.

Peru will secure their place with a home victory against Paraguay. Colombia need to beat Venezuela and hope Peru don’t win, while Chile will have to defeat Uruguay in Santiago and have other results go their way.

Ricardo Gareca’s Peru are favourites to finish fifth having showed a lot of character in a 1-0 loss in Uruguay on Thursday.

“We expected to be in the World Cup with a direct spot, but that can’t be and we have to overcome that,” Gareca said after the defeat in Montevideo.

The Peruvians will miss striker Andre Carrillo (knee) while eighth-place Paraguay won’t have striker Robert Morales, who suffered a knee injury in the team’s 3-1 win against Ecuador.

If Peru fail to win, fifth place will be very much in Colombian hands with last-place Venezuela not expected to pose a major challenge, especially after their 3-0 defeat in Argentina.

Colombia easily accounted for Bolivia 3-0 in Barranquilla with Luis Diaz, who got one of the goals, expected to lead the charge in the final round.

But they’ll have to do it without veteran winger Juan Cuadrado, who is suspended.

“We should focus on us, block ourselves from other results,” Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda said on Sunday.

“We should not be worried as a coaching staff about informing them. It is not good. Players must be focused.”

Elsewhere, third-place Ecuador host second-place Argentina and leaders Brazil have a historic mark to fight for in Bolivia – without suspended strikers Neymar and Vinicius Jr.

Coach Tite’s team will reach 45 points with a victory in the altitude of La Paz, breaking Argentina’s record of 43 before the 2002 World Cup.

FIFA wants Brazil and Argentina to play their suspended encounter by June, which was stopped in the opening minutes of their September 6 clash due to COVID-19 protocols.

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