Uruguay, Colombia, Chile scrap for playoff place
By Brian Homewood
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Uruguay, Colombia and Chile will scrap for South America's fifth-place playoff spot in an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust on Wednesday night.
The trio face teams that have already qualified for next year's finals as they fight for the right to play Australia over two legs for a place in Germany.
Uruguay are at home to Argentina, Chile host Ecuador and Colombia travel to Paraguay. World champions Brazil took the continent's other direct place.
Uruguay are the team in control of their own destiny as they currently occupy fifth spot with 22 points, one more than Colombia and Chile.
The qualifying schedule for the 2002 World Cup ended with the same fixtures and, on that occasion, Uruguay guaranteed fifth spot in what commentators said was a surprisingly uncompetitive 1-1 draw with their neighbours.
They sneaked into the playoff by a goal difference of one from Colombia, who thrashed an already-qualified Paraguay 4-0 in the usually impregnable Defenders of the Chaco stadium in Asuncion, a result which itself raised eyebrows in Uruguay.
After Chile drew 1-1 away to Colombia on Saturday, coach Nelson Acosta said: "We depend on other results but I hope that everything is normal in the last matches and that each team wins or draws on merit."
Argentina's players, however, are angry at suggestions they might not be at their most competitive in Montevideo's Centenario stadium.
"The same thing always happens in these situations and everyone starts suspecting us," said midfielder Cristian Gonzalez.
"It doesn't make sense to think we're going to hand them the game when a lot of us are playing for a place in the World Cup team."
Defender Roberto Ayala added: "These are just stupid things which people say. We always go on to the pitch thinking only of winning."
Uruguay captain Paolo Montero, who missed Saturday's 1-1 draw in Ecuador because of a muscular injury, is still doubtful while Diego Forlan and Marcelo Zalayeta are expected to line up in attack.
"I'm sure we're going to win and get to the playoff," said Uruguay forward Alvaro Recoba.
Chile will be without suspended Portuguese-based striker Mauricio Pinilla for the visit of Ecuador and Reinaldo Navia is expected to partner Luis Jimenez in attack.
Ecuador have allowed defender Ivan Hurtado to return to his club in Qatar while forward Agustin Delgado is suspended. Coach Luis Fernando Suarez is also considering resting other regular players.
Paraguay have also decided to rest their German-based strike force of Nelson Haedo and Roque Santa Cruz, both of whom were allowed to return to their clubs following Saturday's 1-0 win over Venezuela.
"Colombia need a miracle but we still have faith that we can do it," said Colombia striker Juan Pablo Angel.
In Wednesday's other matches, Brazil host Venezuela, who are eliminated, while Peru and Bolivia, both eliminated, meet in Tacna to see who finishes last in the 10-nation group.
Brazil, second with 31 points and three behind Argentina, could still finish top if they beat Venezuela and Argentina lose.
The two arch-rivals have an identical head-to-head record but Brazil have the better overall goal difference.
At the other end, Peru are ninth with 15 points, one ahead of Bolivia.