Only in South America! While World Cup qualifiers can be boring and predictable on some continents, there is one benefit to the CONMEBOL campaign that is hard to find elsewhere. On Thursday, for example, the bottom of the table scored a goal against the 100% top of the table for an hour. But at the end, Venezuela had broken the collective heart. At halftime Brazil brought Raphinha for his international debut and the Leeds United Winger tipped the scales and helped set up three goals in the last 25 minutes.
So Brazil is still 100% and Venezuela remains rooted at the bottom of the table. A shock triumph in Caracas could have started their campaign. This latest defeat, the fourth in a row, certainly puts an end to even the remotest hopes for a late rally and a spot in Qatar.
The three losers in Thursday’s 10th qualifying round were the bottom trio, which the reading excuses Chile and Bolivia as well as Venezuela. But there might be hope for the first two. Both Chile and Bolivia have played six away and only four at home. This imbalance will be corrected in the next few days, with two home games on Sunday and Thursday. Chile hosts Paraguay and Venezuela. Bolivia, at the extreme altitude of La Paz, is home to Peru and Paraguay. These are all eminently winnable games. So it’s easy to project a scenario in which these two stragglers will have gotten back into the fight by next Thursday. Chile will have taken sixth place with two wins ahead of Paraguay and Bolivia will be level on points with the Paraguayans. The supply of drinks may be running out, but the last saloon is still open for Chile and Bolivia.
Home advantage counts in South America. Bolivia have played five games without a win. But four of them were gone. Chile are seven without a win, but five were away. If they can find some form in front of their own fans – and fans are now returning to the South American stadiums – they can bring themselves in. We still had a lot of work to do. Sixth place sounds good for the teams that are currently eighth and ninth. But it’s not good enough to go to the World Cup. The first four qualify automatically, with the team going into a play-off in fifth. Much depends on slips of the teams that are approaching the top of the table. And here, too, there are reasons for Chile and Bolivia to hold on to the dream.
Firstly, they hope that Venezuela will give the courage to scare Brazil and take some points away from the third-placed Ecuador On Sunday. And they will also be happy about slips of the current fourth and fifth, Uruguay and Colombia. This is a real possibility because they each face the big two, Argentina and Brazil in the most attractive games of the Sunday round.
Argentina will hope to welcome again Lautaro Martinez for their home game against Uruguay. the Inter Milan Center forward was missed badly in Thursday’s goalless draw in Paraguay. Argentina presented their complicated midfield passing game, but lacked a sharp edge of the box. Even so, they moved closer to qualifying and extended an unbeaten run that stretched back to the semi-finals of the 2019 Copa America.
Uruguay are unbeaten in the last six qualifying rounds despite winning only two of those games. There was a goalless draw with Colombia on Thursday at home, but their first half-hour game was the most impressive in a long time. Coach Oscar Washington Tabarez seems to be getting off his 4-4-2 system with the old company Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in front. Suarez played the first half and Cavani, who wasn’t quite fit, played the second in a 4-3-3 formation, which made the team more fluid. The impression is that both Argentina and Uruguay are heading in interesting directions in the run-up to Qatar 2022 and it will be fascinating to see them in opposition in Buenos Aires.
Colombia have also been unbeaten in the last six rounds, although four of them have been tied and coach Reinaldo Rueda is having a hard time replacing the again absent player’s inspiration James Rodriguez. On Sunday he will do without the suspended one Juan Cuadradowhose experience and versatility on the right flank are so important to the team. Rueda might be tempted to unleash the playmaker’s creative abilities Juan Quintero. But whichever way he sets up his team, Colombia should be a tough test for a Brazilian team that, despite their 100 percent record, cannot convince their own fans.
In 2019, Brazil opened the campaign in a certain style. More recently, coach Tite appears to have struggled. With almost half of the campaign pending, Brazil has qualified down to name. You have 27 points, and 28 was always enough to secure a place in the World Cup. Still, the coach is under pressure. Losing in the Copa America final against Argentina three months ago didn’t help. But the team wasn’t impressive in the Copa knockout rounds, and subsequent victories against Chile, Peru and Venezuela left many disappointed, with critics arguing that the level of performance in the crucial stages of the World Cup. Colombia away, followed by Uruguay at home, should reveal more about Brazil’s chances in Qatar.
The time and place of the game on Sunday are important. Colombia likes to play its home games at 4 p.m. in the port city of Barranquilla when the sweltering heat wears down their opponents. It could backfire. In these three-way header games that South America plays, there is little time between the first and the second game – just three days, with a four-day break between the second and third game. And Colombia had to travel further as it had to travel almost the length of the continent from Montevideo, while Brazil had a shorter journey from Caracas. The Colombians could run out of gas in the closing stages. Chile and Bolivia will certainly hope so. Brazil is as good as at the finish line. In the final stages of the race to Qatar, the aim is to catch up and overtake the Colombians and Uruguay.