I was going to call this post "The Three Amigos..." then I remembered the various quasi-racist offerings of that same name and thought, "meh...this is better".
Anyway, we're nearing the end of qualification, but for those happy few Central/South American teams who sealed the deal early the nerve-wracking part is over...for now. While Mexico and Uruguay fret and fuss over match-ups and terrible twists of fate that have landed them in the play-in rounds, these three squads are set to go...though whether it means anything or not is another matter entirely.
So here's a quick spin and ridiculously presumptuous analysis of three more qualifiers for next year's world cup.
Contender Credentials: The South American Roja will be making their second straight trip to the Mondiale in 2014 with a squad full of familiar faces that play among the top leagues in the world. In particular the front of Alexis Sanchez, Humberto Sourez and Jean Beausajour is back for blood.
Pretender Problems: Chile's biggest flaw is that, while many of their players are entering their prime, they don't have the unit cohesion that many of their rivals will. Spread throughout Europe and South America, they don't get to play together, save for international affairs. Last fall they dropped four straight and only qualified thanks to 5 wins in 6 matches to round out the campaign.
Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Their recent form is a sign of piecing everything together and--as the darkest of dark horses--they race to a surprising semi-final.
Pits of Despair Scenario: A rough European season depletes their experienced fronts and they're left as the butt of jokes in South America for the next four years.
Prediction: Chile are the Oakland A's of South American soccer, too often overlooked, but never a champion. Round of 16
Contender Credentials: Better known as "El-Tri-That-Actually-Already-Qualified", Ecuador have long been feared in South America, but little respected elsewhere in the World. Despite a disappointing campaign in 2010, they were back in fine form--looking comfortable throughout their campaign and have one of the most consistent leaders in South American Futbol: 2006 rising star/current-day captain Antonio Valencia of Man United
Pretender Problems: Mexico's non-union, South-American equivalent has problems similar to their northernly brethren. Their manager Reinaldo Ruena gets middling results, they seem utterly incapable of winning away from home and they had the straight up rotten luck to lose the fearsome striker Christian Benitez to a heart attack.
Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: My Ecuadorian student is right about an international conspiracy to stop Ecuador from showing up higher profile Argentina/Brazil/Uruguay, and a plucky squad of upstarts uncover the secret assassination plans while leading an inspirational underdog charge to the championship.
Pits of Despair Scenario: They can't get off the ground away from Quito. Literally. The pressure of playing so close to the ocean makes their ears pop and they lie in the fetal position for three weeks straight.
Prediction: There's a lot of enthusiasm/team-of-destiny fervor around Ecuador, but not enough talent to see them through. Third in their group
Contender Credentials: La Bicolor is slowly rising in the ranks of continental powers. This is their second straight cup appearance, matching Costa Rica for the longest streak by any CONCACAF Team not named "Mexico" or "the United States of America". They're even rising up in global estimation with Wigan Athletic building a pipeline of sorts through Midfielder Roger Espinoza and Defender Juan Carlos Garcia
Pretender Problems: Okay...honestly? that record reflects a lot more of CONCACAF's weakness rather than Honduras' strength. Even qualification was something of a fortuitous break with Mexico playing so poorly that they backed in via a couple of draws against Panama and Jamaica. (Plus Garcia & Espinoza have a combined 12 Premier league caps)
Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: They cement their rising star status with a shocking 2nd place finish and tightly contested Round of 16 match.
Pits of Despair Scenario: They forget to pack their shin guards and have to cover themselves in Spongebob Bandaids once the bigger kids start picking on them.
Prediction: Sorry Honduras, nothing doing...4th Place in their group