The fifth round of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers have finished with Argentina moving to the top of the table having previously shared the lead with Uruguay and Venezuela. At the bottom Perú stay in penultimate position while Bolivia are in their habitual place propping up the table despite having played two games at home.
Chiqui Arce was, of course, watching Bolivia in La Paz on Saturday and sent Edgar Bogado to Montevideo to spy on Venezuela while Osvaldo Cohener was in Buenos Aires to watch Paraguay’s next but one opponents, Argentina. These are five things Paraguay can take from the recent round of games in South America.
1. Acclimatisation to altitude the right tactic
The plan to take the Paraguay squad to La Paz 3,640 metres above sea level to acclimatise to the altitude seems to have been justified by Chile’s win. Claudio Borghi didn’t take his team for as long as Chiqui Arce nor to La Paz, they were in Calama at 2,260 metres, but the away side seemed very comfortable in the Hernando Siles. The timing of Chile’s two goals proved they didn’t run out of steam in the thin air, finding the net in stoppage time at the end of the first half and seven minutes from the final whistle.
2. It is time for a Messi plan
When I interviewed Chiqui Arce in September last year before the qualifiers began I asked if he had a plan for the world’s best player Lionel Messi. The answer didn’t appear in the interview because he responded with a question “When do we even play Argentina?” Arce asked his head of press. After another destructive performance from ‘La Pulga’ in the albiceleste of Argentina running from deep time and again at Ecuador’s defence it is certainly something for Arce to mull over. Paraguay are Argentina’s next opponents in Córdoba on September 7th and while the Paraguayan coaching staff think about containing Messi they will want to try and stop him linking with Gonzalo Higuain, the pair have been in scintillating form.
3. Away points are vital
History suggests a team needs 25 points to qualify from the CONMEBOL group, make that 22 considering there are less games this time round. That means Paraguay will need to win their five remaining home games and pick up a win on the road. In the likelihood that they drop points at home (they still have to face Argentina and Chile) they really need two victories away from home. One of Paraguay’s direct rivals, Colombia, have already taken six points from six as the visiting side.
4. Venezuela: Don’t believe the hype
The vinotinto are on eight points after five games which puts them in the qualification zone but are they really going to be a threat? In the 2010 campaign they began in similar fashion, seven points from the first five, before losing four consecutive games to effectively end their chances. The game with Chile in Puerto Ordaz will be key and Paraguay will be keeping a close eye on the team they beat in the Copa América semi-finals who are their next adversaries in Asunción. There is no doubt Venezuela are a strong side but one the albirroja can overcome.
5. Score the first goal
It may sound obvious but Bolivia really lost the plot once they fell behind to Chile, their coach Gustavo Quinteros has the side well-drilled but there seems to be a problem with mentality with the players representing the Andean nation. The second half saw a series of poor challenges aimed mostly at Chile’s Alexis Sanchez and the Bolivians finished the game with ten men. It isn’t only the negative effect the first goal will have on their opponents, as pointed out previously Paraguay have won 88% of games since June 2010 when they score first.
By Ralph Hannah