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FIFA World Cup qualifying preview: Colombia with chance to climb

Colombia have a golden opportunity to move into second in South America’s World Cup qualifying when they host timid travellers Bolivia.

Jose Pekerman’s Colombians are unbeaten at home in over a year and head into Friday’s CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier with Bolivia knowing at least a draw at Estadio Metropolitano will take them above Ecuador and into second in the South American standings.

Colombia (16 points) trail Ecuador by a point but have played one less game and with their southern neighbours out of action until next week, Pekerman’s team could move two points clear in second if they defeat Bolivia.

The visitors have not won an international outside of Bolivia since a friendly against South Africa in 2007.

In a busy weekend of qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil, CONMEBOL leaders Argentina will look to extend their three-point lead at the top of the South American standings when they host fourth-placed Venezuela, while Uruguay take on Paraguay and Chile travel to Peru.

In Europe, the Balkans derby between Croatia and Serbia in Group A on Friday looks to be the pick of the action.

Croatia can go clear at the top of the group if they earn a better result than fellow leaders Belgium can in Macedonia, while Serbia, who are six points back in third, desperately need a win in Zagreb to keep the pressure on the top two.

In Group D, the Netherlands will look to keep their 100 percent qualifying record alive when they travel to Estonia, while Hungary face Romania in a head-to-head battle for the crucial second spot in the standings.

Meanwhile, in Group C, second-placed Sweden take on the Republic of Ireland, who sit third, with both teams looking for a win to keep the pressure on leaders Germany, who face Kazakhstan.

New Zealand can wrap up Oceania’s intercontinental playoff spot with a draw with New Caledonia in Dunedin.

Ricki Herbert’s All Whites qualified for their country’s second-ever World Cup in South Africa and will build an unassailable lead at the top of Oceania’s standings if they avoid a defeat against second-placed New Caledonia.

In CONCACAF, Jamaica hold fourth spot, which would see them play in the two-legged intercontinental playoff against the Oceania winner, and they host Panama in their next qualifier.

Meanwhile, the United States will look to kick-start their final stage of qualifying when they welcome Costa Rica to Denver, while leaders Honduras face Mexico.

In Asia, Group A leaders Uzbekistan can take a big step toward their maiden World Cup appearance with a win in Tashkent over bottom-placed Lebanon, while in Group B Australia will be in the box seat for the second automatic qualifying spot if they defeat Oman in Sydney.

Elsewhere, 2006 World Cup finalists Togo face a must-win game on Saturday to give their qualification hopes a boost.

Togo sit bottom of CAF’s Group I with just one point and anything less than a win at West Africa rivals Cameroon would leave the Togolese without much chance of qualifying for Brazil.

In other African qualifying action, Nigeria host Kenya and Senegal will take on Angola.

Thu 21 March, 2013
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