By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Tuesday, September 5th, the current top two teams in South American World Cup qualifying went head-to-head as Brazil traveled to Barranquilla to face off against Colombia. A second-period goal from Radamel Falcao denied the Seleção its tenth consecutive qualifying win and salvaged a crucial 1-1 draw for Colombia.
Though both teams sit atop the South American (CONMEBOL) group, they entered last night’s game with completely different stakes. Brazil has already clinched the top spot in the formidable group as well as its place in Russia 2018.
Colombia, meanwhile, sits at second, eleven points behind Brazil. But just two points separate Columbia from fifth place and the inter-confederation playoff. The top four teams in the South American (CONMEBOL) table automatically qualify for the world cup, while the fifth qualifies for the inter-confederation playoff.
With little to play for, Brazil started the game loose and easy and put some early pressure on Colombia, winning an early corner from Neymar that was easily cleared.
At the twenty minute mark, Columbia almost drew first blood as Juan Cuadrado deftly cleared space and just missed wide on a rocket from twenty yards out.
With the first half about to end, the seleção devastated the hometown fans with a spectacular goal assisted by Neymar. The world’s most expensive player laid off a brilliant pass to Willian who lashed a top corner shot just beyond the reach of Colombian keeper Ospina.
With the crowd urging them on, Colombia started the second half with a clear sense of desperation. But, despite dominating possession the club had little to show for it until the 56th minute.
Santiago Arias got free on the right and delivered a perfect cross that found the head of Radamel Falcao who redirected the ball just past Alisson to tie the game 1-1, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Boosted by the goal and the fans, Colombia was on the offensive and almost took the lead only two minutes later as Cardona launched a long-range shot that landed right into the waiting hands of Alisson.
After a couple of substitutions, it appeared Brazil weathered the storm and as the clock wound down, both teams appeared exhausted and happy to walk away with a point.
Following the draw, Brazil tops the CONMEBOL table with 37 points and has two more qualifying matches to go, October 5th against Bolivia and October 10th against Chile.