CONMEBOL qualifiers: Uruguay, Peru, Colombia and Chile all fighting for South America’s final World Cup spots


So here we are. The final chapter. South America’s cross-country, highly-demanding, often-erratic, climate-ridden World Cup qualifying campaign approaches its inevitable conclusion. Not even Frodo Baggins’ quest to destroy the cursed ring could imagine such a tortuous journey.  

In many ways, the story ends the way most of us predicted. Brazil and Argentina — the continent’s Man City and Liverpool — are already in Qatar. Both undefeated, with a combined goal tally of 55 goals and an embarrassment of riches within their respective rosters, have shown once again why their performances set the bar. It’s not to say they will slow down in these final two games, or let anything slip. Part of it is history as there has never been a qualifying phase where a team didn’t lose. In this one, we have two. 

There is also emotion involved. For Brazilian players, for example, they see this as a goodbye in qualifiers to their beloved coach Tite, as he will leave his managerial post after the World Cup. Since the 60-year-old tactician took over in 2016, Brazil have only lost five times. It’s a remarkable record. If they win their remaining two matches, the Seleção will have the record for all-time points in CONMEBOL qualifying. Quite simply, Brazilians want this for Tite. 

From a squad perspective, there’s no Ederson as the Man City shot-stopper pulled out due to illness. He was replaced by Atlético  Mineiro’s Everson but the starting spot will naturally fall to Liverpool’s Alisson. Elsewhere, the usual names are there. Neymar could use this break, as he escapes the nightmare in Paris, while Gabriel Martinelli — playing his best football with Arsenal right now — will surely grab this window with both hands. This is his first call up to the national team after his Olympic call up. He’s one of many Premier League-based Brazilians, which also include Raphinha, Phillippe Coutinho, Bruno Guimarães and a few others. Oh, did I mention Ajax’s Antony and Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo are also here? 

Yes, I know. It’s ridiculous. Chile, who sit in sixth place with 21 points, only two points from an intercontinental playoff spot. This is a monumental game for them. Not just because beating Brazil in their own home has never been done in qualifiers, but it’s the added notion that this could be the end of La Roja’s golden era. Players who brought so much glory, such as Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Claudio Bravo and Mauricio Isla — this could be their last dance. There is the added headache of Ben Brereton Diaz’s status as Blackburn’s striker — despite traveling to Chile — has not played since Feb. 14 due to an ankle ligament injury. Time will tell and fate awaits. 

In terms of Argentina, the Copa America champion, their quest is not done as Lionel Scaloni doesn’t want anybody to take their foot off the pedal. There are players missing, such as the enigmatic Lautaro Martinez — who has been scoring goals for fun under Lionel Scaloni (19 goals) — will not be there due to a positive COVID case. Others such as Emiliano Martinez, Emiliano Buendia, Giovanni Lo Celso and Christian Romero have been suspended due to the debacle that was the suspension of Argentina’s trip to Brazil in September. A lot of young players have been called up too. We’re talking about 17- and 18-year-old talents. It’s a sentiment familiar with Scaloni, who knows too well that the best way to succeed as a national team is making sure that the future needs to learn the mentality of the present. Games against Venezuela and Ecuador, who are practically at the World Cup, will be a continuation of the good work already achieved by the Albiceleste.   

The aforementioned Ecuador, in third place, have all but sealed their place at the World Cup and this achievement should not be completely disregarded. This impressive, talented roster has scored more goals than Argentina in qualifiers and their do-or-die attitude is overwhelming for anyone who dares to face them. They are soccer’s Memphis Grizzlies. Unafraid, uber talented and with no need to respect anyone. They can cement their place on Thursday against Paraguay. 

Craving even more coverage of the world’s game? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.

Seventh place Colombia, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. It has been incredibly surprising to see Los Cafeteros suffer so much, especially from something they traditionally love to do, which is score goals. Something they haven’t done since last September. A home game against Bolivia will most definitely break this trend but honestly, I just don’t know anymore. Reinaldo Rueda has done something to Colombia I never thought possible. He’s made them boring. The situation, therefore, has left them to depend on other teams because even if they win their last two games (concluding with 23 points) they must rely on teams above them. That’s the aforementioned Chile and the popcorn-ready thriller that we might expect in Montevideo: 

Uruguay (fourth) against Peru (fifth). 

Things have been difficult for the home side, which led to the departure of an institution. Oscar “El Maestro” Tabarez, who practically revolutionized the game in Uruguay, left after poor results and in his place came Diego Alonso. It has started well for him as the team picked up wins against Paraguay and Venezuela. Alonso brought stability once again and brought confidence back to their midfield, which includes Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde. They will miss Inter’s Matias Vecino, however, reportedly due to COVID. But hopes remain high for them and If they beat Peru and Chile lose to Brazil, La Celeste will be in Qatar. 

Don’t sleep on Peru: South America’s ultimate underdog. It’s incredible to believe that the fate of this team’s World Cup hopes still remains in their hands. Last September, Ricardo Gareca’s side was dead last in the standings. They’re now in fifth, once again, so close to reaching the tournament.  

“For us, we’ve always had to do it the hard way. We’ve had to suffer and even now, until the last one, we’re always going to suffer,” said Nolberto Solano, Peru’s former player and now an assistant to Gareca. “I think, humbly, that this is a very strong group. We have a squad that knows how to compete in these last few years, and we keep going with that spirit, competitive, against great teams here in South America. Hopefully if God permits, we’ll have another chance of returning to the World Cup.” 

It’s true. Peru has to suffer in order to advance. It’s written in the stars above the Andes. Otherwise, the victory can’t be earned. Much of their gusto depends on the collective as Peru are at their best when they control the game without the ball. When they have it, possession can be fast and aggressive, but if it’s erratic, then it can be damaging. If there’s a man who can do this once again, however, it’s Ricardo Gareca. The Argentine manager has literally squeezed gold out of a squad with no stars. There are good players but no game changers, so this assignment — as it’s always been the case — is about the group. 

“We went through a very hard period with a lot of criticism, a lot of “it can’t be done” and I think he resuscitated Peruvians,” said Solano. “[He] injected the team from its root — that indeed, it can be done.”

We will see if indeed it can be done and finally learn the outcome of the game’s best telenovela, the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers. 

Grab a seat. 

CONMEBOL table

1.

Brazil (Q)

15

39

+27

2.

Argentina (Q)

15

35

+16

3.

Ecuador

16

25

+10

4.

Uruguay

16

22

-3

5.

Peru

16

21

-4

6.

Chile

16

19

-1

7.

Colombia

16

17

-3

8.

Bolivia

16

15

-12

9.

Paraguay (E)

16

13

-14

10.

Venezuela (E)

16

10

-16

Top four teams qualify for Qatar 2022; Fifth-placed team heads to playoff.





Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.