With the majority of leagues around the world taking a break from play the focus of this edition of Kamal’s Top Soccer Matches of the Week is on FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, things are really heating up in some regions as countries are seeking to take big strides forward, create separation in the standings and get one step closer to qualifying for Brazil 2014.
The regions we’ll be looking at in this article are CONCACAF & CONMEBOL, two regions that have some very interesting games.
CONCACAF WCQ: Costa Rica vs. USA (Estadio Nacional) – Friday September 6, 2013
To kick-off the Top Matches of the Week we’ll be looking at the US Men’s National Team looking to continue its good international form with a tough World Cup Qualifier down in San Jose, Costa Rica, they take on Ticos side that are only trailing the Americans in pole position by two points and are looking for a measure of revenge from its last meeting affectionately dubbed “Snowmagedon”. Jugen Klinsmann looks to have a settled squad for the most part but has finally recalled US superstar Landon Donovan into the World Cup Qualifying stage while getting recent call-ups in defender John Brooks and forward Aron Johannson cap-tied to the US National Team, the latter is a priority to the fans but getting Donovan back in the mix at this point is the bigger news from the team perspective. Costa Rica are a side that are undefeated at home in the final round of qualifying known as the Hex, this is a good group of talented players capable of giving the US side problems. The forward duo of Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz are particularly threatening against an American back line that has its weaknesses, particularly in the fullback positions.
This is a situation where I think Costa Rica could get the win, not only due to a solid home record but also because the US squad will take time within the match to adjust, the Central Americans will make this a long drawn out affair and look to stifle the likes of Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey.
Prediction: Costa Rica ML (+135)
CONCACAF WCQ: Mexico vs. Honduras (Estadio Azteca) – Friday September 6, 2013
Another match of interest in CONCACAF is a struggling Mexican National Team hosting Honduras at Estadio Azteca, usually a feared place to play teams don’t seem to be as phased by the atmosphere this time around with the Mexicans in a bit of turmoil under coach “Chepo” de la Torre. Honduras were able to secure a 2-2 draw away from home in the first meeting between these two sides, having to go come from behind in the from a 1-0 deficit in the first half. Since that point Mexico have had really big issues scoring goals having played to three 0-0 draws including two at home against USA and Costa Rica. The Hondurans have a good squad with many of its talents being current or former MLS players, the two players of particular interest are Oscar Boniek Garcia and Marvin Chavez going toe-to-toe against a Mexican backline that has had problems during matches. Even with its defensive issues the lack of scoring punch from its two main attacking talents in Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos is more concerning, for reasons that continue to be baffling Carlos Vela continues to be left out of the squad, there is no Marco Fabian on the roster and much of the pressure for playmaking lay at the feet of Andres Guardado.
I’ll go with the UNDER in this one, the combination of Honduras being away from home and Mexico continuing to have difficulties makes me believe goals will be at a premium.
Prediction: UNDER 2.5 (-120)
CONMEBOL WCQ: Chile vs. Venezuela (Estadio Nacional) – Friday September 6, 2013
Shifting gears to South America there are some big matches in what is a fairly tight qualifying phase, this match looks at Chile as part of a log jam for the top four automatic qualifying positions host a Venezuela side on the outside looking in but still in with a shout for a qualifying place. What has kept Venezuela in the mix for qualifying are the ability to play low scoring matches, as outside of a 3-0 thumping against table topping Argentina much of their games have been closely played. In the case of Chile, this is a group that have hit some hot form of late winning its last three matches and four of its last five (only losing 1-0 away to Peru), wins against Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia has put them firmly in the conversation for qualification after what was a rather horrible start to qualifying. The key players to watch for Chile are Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, two players with world pedigree that can exploit a Venezuelan side with primarily a defensive focus. For Venezuela the main player is its captain Juan Arango, known more as a wide threat and one for quality set pieces he’ll need to play a sizable role if Venezuela is to pull off the upset.
The last time these two sides met it was a 2-0 victory for the Chileans away from home in Puerto La Cruz; I see a similar result this time around as Chile looks in good form, have a significant quality advantage and will look to push the likes of Ecuador and Colombia in the standings.
Prediction: Chile -1 (-150)
CONMEBOL WCQ: Peru vs. Uruguay (Estadio Nacional) – Friday September 6, 2013
The final match we’ll take a look at Uruguay in the 5th and final qualifying position look to hang on to its spot when they travel to Lima, Peru to take on a side on the outside of the picture but notorious for making its venue a tough place to get a result. Both of these sides are in something of a “must win” situation, for Uruguay the struggles continue as outside of its last match against Venezuela they’ve suffered some hefty defeats to Colombia by 4-0, Argentina by 3-0 and Bolivia by 4-1 score lines. The last time these two sides met it was a 4-2 win for Uruguay but this time around a lopsided score line isn’t expected, especially considering it’s the beginning of the season and its star forward Luis Suarez hasn’t played a competitive match due to serving a suspension. For Peru, they have a good attacking unit of their own in Jefferson Farfan, Paolo Guerrero and Claudio Pizarro.
Picking a side in this match is really difficult as Uruguay are the more talented side but its offset by playing in difficult Lima, Peru conditions, I’ll lean towards the OVER in this one with all the attacking talent of display and in the case of Uruguay I expect Luis Suarez to be motivated to show what he can do having not been able to do so in the EPL this season.
Prediction: OVER 2.5 (+110)
Personally I’m not a big fan of this international window as I think it gets in the way of the league campaigns around the world and only tend to get players injured, however these are games that might be worth checking out as these are two regions that are tightly played.
Until next week, I hope you sit back, relax and enjoy the games!