Crunch clash awaits Argentina

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Just two points separate four teams in the South American race to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia, and only three automatic places remain with four rounds of matches to come.

Brazil are off and gone – the runaway leaders assured of their spot already – but behind them as many as seven nations are still in the hunt for spots in Russia.

Crucially, second-placed Colombia, along with Uruguay, Chile and Argentina just behind them, are divided by only two points.

Argentina, runners-up in Brazil in 2014, face a crunch trip to Montevideo to tackle Uruguay in the early hours of Friday morning knowing defeat could leave them in a perilous position.

Late last year Uruguay appeared to be cruising towards qualification but last November’s 3-1 loss against Chile has been followed up by defeats against Brazil and Peru.

They go into the home clash with Argentina with a serious case of the wobbles and are 12/5 to win in Montevideo.

Victory would see Argentina leapfrog their hosts but it has not been a campaign to remember so far for Lionel Messi and company, with just six wins in 14 games. A defeat to Bolivia, second from bottom in the table, in their previous qualifier could yet haunt Argentina (6/5 to win against Uruguay).

New coach Jorge Sampaoli is said to be considering an attack-minded 3-4-2-1 formation for La Albiceleste in this one but both teams might be happy to settle for a point (Uruguay/Argentina draw 23/10) in the latest instalment of South America’s oldest rivalry.

Colombia are in second spot, mostly on account of winning the games against weaker opponents so far (record of LDLLDDL against other teams in top five currently), and they should take care of business again at basement side Venezuela (Colombia 20/31 to win). With Brazil at home next, the Colombians have no margin for error.

Brazil (1/4 to win) should have few problems getting past Ecuador in Port Alegre if they can avoid already-qualified complacency, while Chile face a real test in their home clash with Paraguay – opposition they lost 2-1 against in the reverse fixture a year ago. The Paraguayans have not won in the Chilean capital since 2007, but at 7/2 the draw might just be overpriced in this one.