World Cup Qualifying (South America): September 1st

First, let’s address how the South American (CONMEBOL) World Cup Qualification process works.  The competition consists of ten teams playing a home/away round-robin that takes place across 18 Matchdays over the course of two years (October 2015 – October 2017). Thursday evening represents Matchday 7. Here is the table after the first six Matchdays:

#table

The top four places in the table will qualify directly to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.  The 5th place team, currently Colombia, goes to a two-leg intercontinental play-off against the qualifier from Oceania (who’s best team is New Zealand – Australia qualifies through Asia).

There are currently only four points separating the top seven teams in the qualification table, and with each team still yet to play twelve matches each there is much to be determined.  There haven’t been any qualification matches since this March as the teams took the summer to participate in the Copa America Centario. Rather than using the qualification table, it would be more wise to use each team’s performance in that competition to evaluate what to expect Thursday; except for Brazil, who shot their best bullet at the Olympics on home soil where Neymar, notably, led them to the gold medal.

Neymar, Brazil

Back to the Copa America Centario. Chile defeated Argentina in penalty kicks to claim first place:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3MuGIwFmsQ

Colombia took the third place prize defeating the USA, for the second time in the tournament.  According to eloratings.net, Argentina, Chile and Colombia are the respective 1st, 2nd and 7th best teams in the world. Brazil, who didn’t even make the knockout stage of the Copa America, is ranked 5th. Below are the ELO rankings for each of the ten CONMEBOL teams:
ELO

Here’s a quick breakdown for Thursday’s games:Odds

The most intriguing matchup, hands down, is Argentina v Uruguay featuring a face-off between Barcelona forwards Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Lionel Messi (left), Argentina & Luis Suarez (right), Uruguay

…Below are full game breakdowns including recommendations of players to target on DraftKings…

Bolivia v Peru:

This game stands as the most unpredictable of the quintet.  Bolivia introduces new manager Angel Guillermo Hoyes, who will likely look to make massive adjustments to the perennial worst team in South America.  Gauging from the Copa America Centario, Martin Smedberg-Dalence ($5,300) should find himself on the majority of corner and free kicks.  Juan Carlos Arce ($5,100) is likely their most potent goal scorer (but that’s not saying a lot).  Despite little success and being significantly behind Peru in the ELO ratings, Bolivia currently stands as the second heaviest favorite on the slate (behind Colombia and Argentina respectively).  While not initially making sense, I would garner they are favored so over the decidedly more talented Peru because of a substantial home advantage (maybe in part due to elevation?).  Peru starts and ends with their talented striker Paolo Guerrero ($7,200).  Guerrero has played in Brazil since 2012, but he had 10 goals while with Bayern Munich and 47 goals total while spending eight years playing in the Bundesliga. Internationally for Peru he’s scored 27 goals in 71 matches (I’m hoping he doesn’t score here, so that his goals/matches becomes a palindrome – 27/72). Peru’s main corner a taker figures to be Christian Cueva ($5,700), while Edison Flores ($4,100) is extremely active offensively and way underpriced – both scored during the Copa.  In this instance, I do not trust the odds.  Peru is the more talented team. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese ($4,800) is worth consideration as a value play, as are both Cueva and Flores.  Guerrero is little pricier than ideal, but not out of the question for GPPs.  Due to the uncertainty with the Bolivia squad under new management, Smedberg-Dalence is the only player I’ll be targeting.

Colombia v Venezuela:

Colombia are clear-and-out the heaviest favorites on the slate, being rated as around 71% to win.  The Colombia attack is made of a talented quartet of players with James Rodriguez ($8,700) being both the director and lead act.  Complimenting the talented Real Madrid man on the wings are newly cemented Juventus man Juan Cuadrado ($8,000) and Edwin Cardona ($7,800).  Spearheading the attack force is star A.C. Milan striker Carlos Bacca ($8,500) who already recorded a hat-trick in his first start of the season in Italy.  If trends from the Copa continue, James (his first name is what appears on his jersey) and Cardona will split corner taking duty.  Rodriguez will be over most free kicks while also standing over penalty kicks.  Cuadrado is a talent on the ball and provides considerable space to his fellow attackers, but isn’t a prominent goal scorer nor crosses – thus, not a great fantasy target.  Cardona scored 19 goals in Mexico last season in addition to three career goals for Colombia.  Due to not playing in Europe he can be overlooked by some within this offense – not wise. In addition to 18 goals for A.C. Milan last season, Bacca has contributed five goals to Colombia in 2016.  In addition to the attackers, Colombia’s defense is rated as the most likely to keep a clean sheet on the slate.  Fullback Santiago Arias ($4,300) and goalkeeper David Ospina ($5,700) both warrant consideration.  Venezuela showed a massive turnaround in form during the Copa America making it to the knockout stage behind a massive 1-0 victory over a Uruguay side that was without Luis Suarez and Diego Godin.  It appears they’ll be pretty overmatched in this spot, but the Colombia defense has never been a notable strength and a counter-attacking goal from someone like Salomon Rondon ($6,100) shouldn’t be completely counted out.

Ecuador v Brazil:

Ecuador is currently favored over Brazil.  The…BRAZIL!  Turns out, Ecuador has secured favorable outcomes the last three times (two wins, one draw) they’ve hosted the Brazilian team in the high altitude city of Quito.  Brazil is under new management following a group stage exit in the Copa America.  Brazil is also coming off of a gold medal in the Olympics.  Typically, the Olympics don’t mean much; but being they were the hosts they preserved their most talented player Neymar ($9,700) for that tournament rather than expending him in stateside in the Copa America.  It worked, they won, Neymar looked masterful in every match.  This doesn’t mean Brazil is back to their former level as the world’s best team (they have the most World Cups of any nation with five, but none since 2002), but the Olympics did relieve them of the preverbal monkey-on-their-back after losing to eventual champs Germany 7-1 in the 2014 World Cup semifinals in from of a home crowd in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  First thing to mention about Ecuador’s lineup is that it will be without Manchester United man Antonio Valencia as he’ll rest up and wait to appear in Tuesday’s game.  That leaves a substantial void on the right wing with it unclear who will be selected to fill the void.  The key man, fantasy wise, for Ecuador may end up being defender Walter Ayovi ($4,800) who finds himself standing over both corner and free kicks.  Also notable is Swansea winger Jefferson Montero ($6,100), who could shoulder a heavier offensive responsibility with Valencia at.  Other notable attacking threats are Christian Noboa ($4,900), who has two goals in two matches in Champions League qualifying for FC Rostov already this season, and West Ham forward Enner Valencia ($7,300).  Ecuador are favored and should be respected, but it’s hard to imagine this youth-infused (six players from the Olympics) Brazil squad won’t come in with some momentum.  Neymar is expensive, but he’s among the very best players in the world and with good peripheral stats comes with a solid floor.  Other attacking threats worth a look are Willian ($8,600)Gabriel Jesus ($7,800) and Coutinho ($7,700) depending on who gets the call to start.

Argentina v Uruguay

This one could be fun, but first-and-foremost Argentina is the number one ranked team in the world.  They will however be without Sergio Aguero, Javier Pastore and Gonzalo Higuain.  Messi ($11,000) is a question mark, but most recent news indicates he will start for the first time under new manager Edgardo Bauza.  If Messi doesn’t start, the Argentine attack will go through PSG winger Angel Di Maria ($9,400).  These are the top two players for Argentina and should be used as such.  If either Messi or Di Maria miss the matchup for some unforeseen reason, Gaitan ($7,500) and Lamela ($7,000) will immediately become discounted options for access to the powerful Argentina attack.  With it appearing both Aguero and Higuain will miss this game, Juventus forward Dybala ($9,000) is likely to be thrust into the starting role in the center of the attack between Di Maria and Messi.  The entirety of the Argentine attack is very much in play.  Not to be overlooked are the fullback tandem of Rojo ($4,200) and Mercado ($3,900), who both are capable of getting forward and crossing the ball in certain situations.  Traveling to Argentina to face the best national team in the world is a massive task, but Messi’s Barcelona striking partner Luis Suarez ($10,400) can’t be entirely overlooked after scoring an absurd 59 goals in all competitions last year while possessing 45 career goals for Uruguay.  Being such massive underdogs while being fairly highly priced, it’s likely wise to mostly fade Uruguay spare a GPP shot or two.

Paraguay v Chile

The now two-time in a row Copa America champions Chile will travel to Paraguay in what could very well end up being a ‘trap game’.  With a recent transfer from Barcelona to Manchester City and some family business to attend to, Chile will be without their top goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.  Being without a world class goalkeeper, traveling to a tough environment to play a rough and tough Paraguay squad that’d sacrifice a limb before willingly allowing a goal.  Chile are far and out the more talented team are with that have attracted favoritism in the odds despite being the away team.  While they’ll be without Bravo, they will not be without their two man dynamic force in Arturo Vidal ($7,500) and Alexis Sanchez ($9,500).  Alexis will be on corner kicks, while Vidal will stand over the majority of free kicks in addition to being the penalty kick taker. Outside of that duo Orellana ($6,100)Jean Beausejour ($4,600)Jose Fuenzalida ($4,400)Mauricio Pinilla ($6,700), and Eduardo Vargas ($6,200) all could be usable fantasy players depending on whether they find themselves in the starting lineup or not.  Mauricio Isla ($3,600) is a usable defender figuring to contribute a few crosses.  Paraguay’s style in the past has been extremely unfriendly to fantasy point accumulation, but Victory Ayala ($3,900) could provide considerable value being the expected corner taker.  Draftkings has two goalkeepers listed for Chile in addition to Bravo, but it may be a the unlisted Tito that gets the call.  The goalkeeper situation in Chile is worth watching as Thursday night approaches.

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