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Stars of the South American Qualifiers: Third Round

(Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)

The third round of South American World Cup qualifiers took place on Thursday, with several powerhouses facing each other in a set of exciting matches.

In Santiago, World Cup quarter-finalists Colombia put in a surprisingly solid display to manage a 1-1 draw against Copa America winners Chile, while Ecuador confirmed their position as leaders by beating Uruguay by 2-1 in Quito.

Elsewhere, in the altitude of La Paz, Bolivia overcame Venezuela – currently last in the table with 0 points – by 4-2. And in Buenos Aires, the headliner, the legendary derby between Brazil and Argentina, had to be postponed due to heavy rain.

As it is often the case in South American soccer, there were a number of memorable individual performances that deeply impacted this Qualifying round’s results. Here are some of them:

Rodrigo Ramallo – Bolivia (vs. Venezuela)

After the retirement of Marcelo Moreno Martins – arguably one of the best players ever to play for Bolivia – only a few months ago, La Verde was left with a huge gap to fill in its offensive line. However, on Friday, Bolivia caught a glimpse of a possible replacement, as forward Rodrigo Ramallo led their offensive efforts managing to score two goals on his own.

The 25-year-old, who plays for Bolivian club The Strongest, made his first mark on the score sheet before the 20minute mark, with an exquisite lobbed finish over the goalkeeper. And right before the whistle for the first half, he came up again, this time to slot in his team’s third goal with a close-range header.

Beyond his goals, Ramallo was a constant threat to the Venezuelan defense with his incessant and dangerous running behind their backs – a feature that could become a valuable asset for Bolivia throughout these qualifiers.

Jefferson Montero – Ecuador (vs. Uruguay)

The Swansea man has a clear mission in every game he plays for both his club and national teams — open up to the flank as much as possible and create chaos in the opponents’ defense. And it is a mission that he executed delightfully during his team’s victory against La Celeste.

Starting out from the left flank, Montero persistently battered and stretched the Uruguayan lines, taking out defenders, creating passing lines, and simply becoming a dangerous source of balls toward the box. His second-half display in particular was wonderful: he completely disorganized the typically-composed Uruguayan defense, and, in the 59th minute, managed to get in a powerful shot that then allowed Fidel Martínez to score the winning goal.

Luis Muriel – Colombia (vs. Chile)

Sharing a team with the likes of Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martínez, Téofilo Gutiérrez, Carlos Bacca and Adrián Ramos, it’s easy to see why Luis Muriel hasn’t had many chances to start in the Colombian National Team’s offensive line throughout the past few years. However, on Thursday, head coach José Pékerman gave the Sampdoria striker a chance to show his worth against the strongest team in the tournament ­– and it paid off.

Playing close to the corpulent Jackson, Muriel had a number of chances to latch on to rebounds and loose balls, and he took all of them magnificently. Though Colombian star James Rodríguez had a quiet game, Los Cafeteros enjoyed a constant source of offensive actions through Muriel’s treacherous running on and off the ball. Pairing up pace and skill, the 24-year old was able to create a number of chances inside the opposition box, one of which allowed him to assist James for his team’s only goal.

The Rain – Argentina (vs. Brazil)

Probably the most awaited match of the week, the legendary Argentina vs. Brazil match had to be postponed due to a storm that completely flooded the pitch at the Estadio Monumental. As per CONMEBOL officials, the match will be played at the same time on Friday.

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