Both embroiled in the battle for two likely remaining qualification places, Uruguay host Colombia in South American World Cup Qualifying on Friday.
Leading their CONMEBOL counterparts by two points – and two places – in the table, La Celeste will not want to cede ground to one of their direct rivals for a ticket to Qatar 2022.
Following a productive international period last month, when they picked up seven points from a possible nine in the forbidding qualification process for next year’s World Cup, third-placed Uruguay return to action seeking to secure their status as favourites to qualify behind Argentina and Brazil.
Having drawn in Peru and then comfortably defeated lowly Bolivia, the Celeste were 1-0 winners in a potentially decisive clash with Ecuador, in which they were indebted to Gaston Pereiro’s stoppage-time winner at Estadio Campeon del Siglo.
That upturn in fortunes was warmly welcomed by Oscar Tabarez’s side, as a loss to Brazil and disappointing draws with Paraguay and Venezuela in the previous three games had jeopardised their hold on a top-four place.
The legendary Tabarez had then seen his squad play out a goalless draw in their Copa America quarter-final versus this Friday’s visitors, where they ultimately crashed out on penalties in the competition’s first knockout round.
As a team packed with top-tier European experience, Uruguay are now expected to seal a fourth successive finals place by the end of the laborious South American qualifying series, which has only just entered its second half after nine previous rounds.
Keeping at bay one of their fellow contenders to make next year’s global gathering will be high among their targets on Friday, as with successive trips to Argentina and Brazil coming up next week, they will not want to risk dropping into the playoff place for finishing fifth – or even missing out entirely.
Beating Chile in Barranquilla last month marked a first win in four qualifying games for Colombia, who were among the favourites to progress at the start of the campaign. A quickfire double from striker Miguel Borja inside the first 20 minutes gave La Tricolor a lead they would never relinquish, with a 3-1 victory keeping them very much in the mix for automatic qualification.
Ahead of the 10th round of fixtures in the CONMEBOL region, Colombia sit fifth in the standings and are locked together on points with Ecuador, who they trail only on goal difference.
Just two wins from their opening eight qualification fixtures had put coach Reinaldo Rueda under severe pressure, but the former Ecuador and Honduras boss then managed to steer his talented squad to a place on the podium at the Copa America, with a commendable third place finish in Brazil.
Subsequent draws away to Bolivia and Paraguay may have underwhelmed, but that victory over the Chileans last time out has boosted hopes of reaching a third straight World Cup finals, after a previous absence of 16 years.
Despite their shootout success against them in the summer, Colombia were well beaten by Uruguay last time they met in qualifying, though.
Back in November of last year, they succumbed to goals from three of their rivals’ fearsome attacking department, as Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and ascendant Benfica striker Darwin Nunez netted in a 3-0 defeat for Rueda’s side.
Therefore, they will afford their first opponents of the coming week’s triple-header the utmost respect – particularly on home soil at Parque Central.
Uruguay World Cup Qualifying – South America form:
Uruguay form (all competitions):
Colombia World Cup Qualifying – South America form:
Colombia form (all competitions):
We say: Uruguay 1-1 Colombia
There will be an abundance of talent available to both teams’ wily managers on Friday, with a fine blend of invaluable experience and youthful promise lending this encounter an unmissable feel.
Despite Uruguay’s crushing victory in Colombia last year, on this occasion the two nations are too tough to split, and may also be inclined to keep something in reserve for some challenging fixtures during the next week.