Argentina targets Cup finals; Brazil struggles for survival


A clash of the titans between struggling giants Brazil and surprise package Paraguay will dominate this week’s latest round of world cup qualifiers, as the South American qualifying tournament shifts into its final phase.

The two teams meet Wednesday in Porto Alegre, the same day that group leader Argentina travels to Ecuador, knowing that a victory should be enough to formally book their place in next year’s World Cup finals.

Also in the action in this week’s fourteenth round of the 18-match qualifying group, Venezuela hosts Uruguay and Bolivia visits Chile Tuesday, while Colombia — boosted by their recent Copa America victory — receive Peru on Thursday.

After three coaches in a year, last month’s humiliating elimination from the Copa America by Honduras and their worst losing streak in eight decades, Brazil come into Wednesday’s match knowing there is also a real possibility they could fail to reach the finals for the first time in their history.

The team lies joint fourth with Uruguay in the qualifiers with 21 points from 13 games. Only four teams qualify directly for the finals with the fifth facing Australia in a two-leg playoff.

In a bid to reverse the team’s fortunes, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari recalled several big names to his squad, who had not played in the Copa America. Among them were Roberto Carlos, Elber, Rivaldo and Cafu. Veteran striker Romario was left out.

Facing them is a Paraguayan side that beat Brazil 2-1 in Asuncion last July and is well on course for its second successive world cup finals, standing second in the qualifying group with 26 points.

Paraguay coach Sergio Markarian said Monday his team, which includes the likes of keeper Jose Luis Chilavert and the potent striking lineup of Jose Cardozo and youngster Roque Santa Cruz will go on the attack in Wednesday’s game seeking to exploit Brazil’s current soccer nerves.

“We have to remind them minute after minute that they are in crisis,” he told reporters.

While Brazil and Paraguay battle it out, Argentina, which has cruised through the qualifiers so far, fly off to Ecuador as they seek to secure their berth in the finals.