Peru began their qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup with a superb 2-0 victory over Paraguay in Lima on Friday, while Ecuador were also victorious and Bolivia succumbed to defeat at the hands of Uruguay.
Peru 4 – 2 Paraguay
Buoyed by their third place finish at the Copa America hopes were high going into Peru’s opening qualifier and those expectations were met by a fantastic performance from Sergio Markarian’s men, who pressed high up the field from the off and gave their opponents little chance to settle.
Markarian has shown himself to be a bit of a tactical chameleon in his time in charge of La Blanquirroja and opted for an ultra attacking 4-2-4 against Paraguay’s more standard 4-4-2. The front four of Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizarro, Paulo Guerrero and Juan Manual Vargas were all excellent, but this was very much a team performance with everyone performing at a high level.
After a first half in which Pizarro and Guerrero had both spurned good chances to put the home side ahead, Peru started the second half was a bang when Guerrero gave them the lead on 47 minutes following a sloppy pass from Paraguay’s right-back Ivan Piris that was easily intercepted by Farfan, who then laid in Guerrero to score. This seemed to give even further confidence to a team who hadn’t exactly looked short of it prior to that point and they were rampant afterwards, attacking Paraguay with such gusto that it’s surprising they only managed one more goal before the final whistle.
Peru were consistently able to get four on four against Paraguay’s defence who, despite the best efforts of the ever-reliable Dario Veron, were unable to cope with the pace and movement of Peru’s forwards. There were some lovely interchanges between the four of them and Peru created numerous opportunities to add to their advantage before Guerrero did just that in the 72nd minute, taking one touch to control Pizarro’s clipped cross before firing emphatically into the net.
It was such an accomplished, dominating performance that Paraguay were unable to even rustle together one decent shot on target and Markarian was so happy with the way his charges played that he felt no need to make any substitutions until second half injury time.
Next up for Peru are Chile away. Peru essentially matched Chile’s 3-4-1-2 formation man-for-man by deploying a 3-1-4-2 formation when the sides met at the Copa America, Chile running out 1-0 victors in the final match of the group stage with both teams already qualified. Whether or not Markaraian will deploy a similar approach on Tuesday is anyone’s guess, but if Peru can get a point or more in Santiago it would crystallise a highly promising start to their qualification campaign.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, I predicted a win for Peru in @paraguayralph and @sergiolahaye ‘s new video show The Chiqui Boys, which is primarily focused on the Paraguayan national team. Watch it and let us know what you think on Twitter – http://youtu.be/OCGz80dKDXU
Ecuador 2 – 0 Venezuela
Ecuador had a far less impressive Copa America than Peru, being eliminated in the group stage without a win to their name, but they also began the World Cup qualification process in dominate fashion with a 2-0 victory at home to Venezuela in Quito.
Venezuela coach Cesar Farias had been training at altitude since the 12th September with the majority of the players who started the match in an attempt to nullify the effect of Quito’s 2,850 metre elevation, but received no reward for his thorough preparation as his side were played off the park but a high energy performance from their hosts.
Venezuela had little answer to the pace and directness of Antonio Valencia on Ecuador’s right, who set up both of the home side’s goals. First, his well placed cross was headed onto the post by Christian Suarez with Jaime Ayovi on hand to head home the rebound and then Christian Benitez found space between two defenders to head home another excellent delivery from the Manchester United man. Ecuador were 2-0 up within half an hour and never looked likely to relinquish their lead from that point forth.
Key to their success was the central midfield partnership of Christian Noboa and Luis Saritama, both of whom are excellent passers of the ball and were able to exert a control over the match that had been sorely lacking during the country’s Copa America campaign. Noboa was particularly impressive, always calm and composed in possession, and capable of superb cross field balls that allowed Valencia to get one-on-one with the full-back on numerous occasions.
Ecuador are the country who get a rest day in the second round of qualifying fixtures and will instead by flying to New Jersey to face the United States in a friendly on Tuesday evening.
Uruguay 4 – 2 Bolivia
And so to Bolivia, who had lost 5-0 away to Uruguay in the opening matches of the last two qualification tournaments and can therefore take a degree of solace from the fact that they at least improved on that scoreline in going down 4-2 in the first of Friday’s qualifiers.
Bolivia even managed to claw their way back to 1-1 when Rudy Cardozo’s neatly clipped finish restored parity following Luis Suarez’s opener, but Uruguay were in control and scored three times more, through Edinson Cavani and a Diego Lugano brace before Marcelo Martins Moreno scored a late consolation from the penalty spot for the visitors.
Three of Uruguay’s four goals came from set-pieces swung into the area, which considering the height advantage they wielded over their opponents is perhaps not surprising, but will nevertheless be something Bolivia’s coach Gustavo Quinteros will need to work on ahead of their second qualifier at home to Colombia on Tuesday.
If Bolivia are to have any chance of making Brazil 2014 they have to make the advantage the altitude of La Paz gives them count to the fullest and Quinteros will therefore hope they can continue the trend set thus far in this qualification tournament, that being that all four matches have been won by the home team.