Both adrift of the top five places in South American World Cup qualifying, hosts Chile welcome a buoyant Venezuela to Las Condes on Friday.
With even a playoff spot looking beyond the reach of either nation, they both come into the game following rare victories in the lengthy qualification process.
The unlikely international career of Blackburn Rovers’ Ben Brereton Diaz continued apace at the weekend, as the reborn striker netted his second goal for Chile in just their second win on the road to Qatar 2022.
Once the CONMEBOL section finally comes to an end – deciding the four automatic qualifiers and the fifth-placed playoff entrant – his opening goal in the 2-0 win over Paraguay may carry as much significance as his first: a winner at the Copa America during the summer, which ensured that La Roja made it out of their group.
Though Chilean prospects remain wafer thin, as they still trail fifth by five points, they are at least alive – despite a previous winless run of seven matches in all competitions – after a 2-0 defeat to Peru last Friday.
At risk of failing to qualify for the second successive tournament, having missed out in Russia three years ago, the squad overseen by former Real Sociedad coach Martin Lasarte simply must continue to post wins and hope that others falter.
Lasarte, who took charge of La Roja in February, has come out on top in only three of his 13 matches so far, so will be under no illusions that victory over Venezuela is essential this week – particularly after they lost the reverse fixture in November despite dominating the ball.
After several further attempts, a second success of the campaign was posted by Venezuela on Sunday, as their 2-1 win against the Chileans was finally added to by victory over Ecuador in Caracas.
Having fallen behind before the break, following Enner Valencia’s penalty for the visitors, La Vinotinto fought back to draw level in the 45th minute and then edged ahead through Eduard Bello; giving them a lead they would never relinquish.
That well-earned three points came just days after they gave runaway group leaders Brazil quite a fright, as Venezuela led up until the 71st minute, when Marquinhos headed home an equaliser. Two further goals for the Selecao followed as legs began to tire, and condemned Leonardo Gonzalez’s team to their sixth successive loss.
Named interim manager of the national side in August – replacing the sacked Jose Peseiro, who departed claiming he had not been paid for several months – Gonzalez has a sizeable task on his hands even to reclaim a little pride following some sparse years for one of the continent’s traditional minnows.
Even with Sunday’s win, Venezuela remain at the foot of the table, eight points adrift of Colombia in fifth. Therefore, when they go in search of a double over Chile at Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo, they will not even still be dreaming of a first-ever World Cup qualification.
Chile World Cup Qualifying – South America form:
Chile form (all competitions):
Venezuela World Cup Qualifying – South America form:
Venezuela form (all competitions):
We say: Chile 2-1 Venezuela
Two of the lowest-scoring nations in South American qualifying to date will be freed up somewhat in the final third, after both netting twice in their respective weekend wins.
Chile’s forward threat, though, contains some sharper tools, plus without home advantage, Venezuela are less likely to take the initiative and could pay the price.