Brazil and Argentina Race Ahead In South American 2022 Qualifiers
Following the October break, which saw a further three matchdays contested, the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers competition for South America is now over halfway completed. Only six matchdays remain from eighteen. And only 4.5 slots at the 2022 tournament in Qatar are available.
The recent break saw a flurry of activity in the mid to bottom end of the standings, but the top two spots, as they have been from Matchday One, remain occupied by Brazil and Argentina. So, who is still in the running for third and fourth place and a direct ticket to Qatar? Who could take fifth place and another shot at qualifying via the inter-confederation playoffs? And, who doesn't stand a chance? Let's look at the October action to see which teams are on fire and which have given up the ghost...
October End Standings
At the end of the break, the standings stack up as follows:
Brazil sits top of the table with 31 points from eleven matches. Both Brazil and Argentina have played one less game than their rivals. Brazilian health authorities suspended their head-to-head due to four England based players, apparently, breaching the Brazilian government's COVID protocols. It is unclear whether or not the match will be rescheduled, but it doesn't seem to matter too much. Six points ahead of nearest rival Argentina and fifteen points ahead of fourth-placed Colombia (the last position on the table for direct qualification), plus an unbroken record in the tournament to date, the Brazilian's form appears unstoppable. And, with each game played, they draw ever closer to early qualification.
The only blot on the Seleção's tournament record to date is a goalless draw with Colombia. Following ten back-to-back wins, including their 3-1 opener this October against Venezuela, the Brazilian squad's 100% record was tarnished in their battle against Colombia on the 10th. Despite the majority of possession and the best opportunities to convert their chances, Brazil couldn't find the back of the net. The Brazilian's had to make do with just one point from the encounter.
Back to their best on the final matchday of the window, Brazil continued their unbeaten run with a 4-1 win over Uruguay. Brazil was the dominant team. They created an abundance of scoring opportunities, thirteen of which were on target and four of which went to the back of the net. Neymar opened the scoring in the 10th minute, his 70th goal for his country. Raphinha added his first for Brazil in the 18th and then completed his brace with another strike in the 58th. Uruguay's Luis Suarez managed a single goal for his team in the 77th, but it was little consolation as Brazil's Gabriel Barbosa slotted home a fourth for the winners in the 83rd.
Argentina ended the window having amassed just seven points from nine. A goalless draw with Paraguay on the opening day prevented the team from closing the gap with Brazil. The Argentine squad dominated possession in their battle with Paraguay but struggled to control the game. La Albiceleste did their best to apply pressure on the Paraguayan goal but missed some clear opportunities or were stopped by Paraguay's goalkeeper, Anthony Silva.
The Argentinian's fared better at home to Uruguay. After a slow start, the team took control of the match and scored three times for the win. Messi unintentionally scored the opener in the 38th minute - a missed pass to Nico Gonzales, which then rolled over the line. Nonetheless, the score spurred the Argentine team into action. Six minutes later, Rodrigo de Paul struck home, leading the team to the interval 2-0 up. Seventeen minutes into the second half, Lautaro Martinez slotted home a third for Argentina to take the full three points.
On the final matchday, Argentina extended their unbeaten run with a single winning goal against Peru. It wasn't the Argentine's strongest performance; Peru proved hard to break down and, even when Argentina did force clear openings, there were plenty of missed opportunities and some poor finishing. Regardless, the winning goal earned the team their three points, and they ended the break in second place on 25 points.
Ecuador had dropped into fourth place from third over the September break with a draw against Chile and a loss to Uruguay. However, the Ecuadorians started the recent break in better form. They played a convincing 3-0 home win over seventh-placed Bolivia. The three goals, an opener from Michael Estrada and a brace from Enner Valencia, were scored during a five-minute flurry of action in the early first half of the game. The win kept the surprise qualification contenders' 2022 dreams alive.
The celebrations, however, didn't last too long. The teams' second match of the window ended in a frustrating 2-1 loss to Venezuela. It was Venezuela's first win of the competition, having languished on the bottom rungs of the table since the tournament's starting whistle. Ecuador's Enner Valencia opened the scoring in the 37th minute. However, an equaliser from Darwin Machis at the end of the first half and a 64th-minute goal from Eduardo Bello gave Venezuela the advantage.
Ecuador only managed to pick up one extra point in their final match against Colombia. The goalless draw saw Columbia pressurising the Ecuadorians throughout the 90+ minutes. That the score didn't end in the Colombians favour was in part due to the valiant efforts of Ecuador's goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.
Colombia, who started the tournament in third place, then dropped down to seventh, have been working their way back up the standings over the last eight matches. They currently sit in fourth on 16 points after a string of unbeaten games. However, the October break could have been better. All three of the Columbian's matches ended in goalless draws.
Against Uruguay, the Colombians found themselves given the run around by a more dominant team. However, an excellent save by Colombia's goalkeeper Ospina, an offside goal from Luis Suarez, and some missed Uruguayan opportunities gifted the Columbians one point. Against Brazil, the Colombians did well to hold the group leaders to a goalless draw and break their 100% record in the competition so far. The Columbian's technical ability enabled them to close down the Brazilian attack effectively. Colombian keeper, David Ospina, made crucial saves during the battle to hold the opposition off. However, with only two points earned from six, the Columbians needed a win against Ecuador on the final day. And, it very nearly was, but Ecuador's Alexander Dominguez made some excellent saves across the two halves, and a disallowed 100th-minute goal by Columbia's Yerry Mina earned the squad just a single point once again.
Uruguay had a reasonably poor window in October - from nine available points, they earned just one point against Columbia in their opening match of the break. The Uruguayans dominated against the Columbians but couldn't convert their chances. Uruguay's star striker, Suarez, was left frustrated after having his one goal of the match ruled out as offside and having missed a sitter.
The team's head-to-head with Argentina started well as they dominated the game and kept the Argentine offence under control. However, it all went wrong after Messi's inadvertent goal towards the end of the first half. The Argentines grew in confidence and began slotting balls to the back of the net. While Uruguay rallied for the second half, they failed to score.
Against a determined Brazil, the Uruguayans struggled to contain the Seleção. The Brazilians maintained their attacking pressure throughout the game, scoring four goals to Suarez's one. Only the heroics of Uruguay's goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera, kept the margin at a manageable level.
Uruguay ended the break in fifth place from third on 16 points, behind Colombia on goal difference.
Chile started the October fixtures with a 2-0 loss to Peru. Despite holding onto the majority of possession, the Chileans couldn't create many clear opportunities. In contrast, the Peruvians managed to break through Chile's defence on numerous occasions to try their luck.
However, after their shock loss to Peru, the break took an upward turn for Los Roja. The Chileans scored a much needed 2-0 win over Paraguay in the later stages of the match. Ben Brereton scored in the 68th minute to break the deadlock, and Mauricio Isla followed up with a strike in the 72nd. The squad added another three points to their tally with a confident 3-0 victory over Venezuela. Sloppy defending by the Venezuelans in the 18th handed Chile's Erick Pulgar the game's first goal. He followed that up with a superb close-range header in the 37th. Brereton wrapped up the game with a final goal in the second half.
The double win was a timely boost to the Chilean's qualification hopes. The team jumped up the standings from eighth to sixth, just three points behind Uruguay, who sit in the playoff qualification spot.
Having spent most of the tournament at the bottom of the standings, Bolivia had an epic contest, despite an opening match loss against Ecuador. Two wins sent the Bolivians from ninth place into seventh on 12 points, putting them back in contention to chase the lead pack.
Against Peru, the Bolivians had the home advantage. The Peruvians, however, created the most opportunities to score. Unfortunately, Peru’s efforts were squandered or saved by Bolivia's Carlos Lampe. In the end, Bolivia, despite a red card incident, managed to squeeze in a late winner thanks to Zamiro Vaca. Against Paraguay, the Bolivians made a more decisive 4-0 win. The Bolivian squad put Paraguay under pressure from start to finish and the effort paid off. Bolivia's Rodrigo Ramallo slotted home the opener from outside the box in the 21st. Then, eight minutes into the second half, Moises Villarroel Angulo scored a close-range goal, Victor Abrego scored in the 84th, and Roberto Fernandez thumped home a stoppage-time effort.
Paraguay, who started the tournament in October 2020 in fourth place and have gradually worked their way down the table, compounded their downward trend with a draw and two losses this international window.
The Paraguayans first match against Argentina boded well for the break. The Paraguayans were organised, proving hard to break down, and, at times, were dangerous on the attack. Argentina missed some clear chances, and Paraguay's Antony Silva stopped those that fell on target. Paraguay took their share of the spoils for holding the Argentines off.
Paraguay's fortunes took a nosedive in their next matches against Chile and Bolivia. Against Chile, the Paraguayans lost 2-0, and against Bolivia, a shocked team went 4-0 down. Eduardo Berizzo, Paraguay's manager, has since been fired.
Peru's fortunes were looking up during the September break as they drew against Uruguay and beat Venezuela, moving into seventh place from tenth. However, despite beating Chile 2-0 in their opening match of the October window, a 1-0 loss to Bolivia, in which the Peruvian squandered many opportunities to score, and a 1-0 loss to Argentina, that saw a golden chance to score from a penalty wasted, saw Peru end the break in ninth place.
Venezuela has suffered nine losses during the tournament, keeping them on the bottom two rungs of the standings for most of the competition. During the October break, in spite of a shock lead against Brazil, the Venezuelans couldn't hold off relentless attacks from the opposition for long. Brazil took the victory 3-1. One of only two wins this tournament came in their second match of the window against Ecuador. The Venezuelans stacked up confidently against Ecuador on the day and put two goals away to Ecuador's one. However, against Chile on the final day, poor defending gave the Chileans the opening score and the edge in the game. The match ended 3-0 to the hosts in Santiago.
Looking forward, it seems almost certain that Brazil and Argentina will advance with ease to the World Cup, and most likely, they will qualify with games to spare. The real competition will be to see who will take third and fourth spots and direct qualification to Qatar and who will make the inter-confederation playoffs in June 2022 for a second chance at qualifying.
Ecuador has maintained a qualifying spot on the table since Matchday One. However, they will need to rack up some wins over the following few windows if they want to go all the way to the tournament. Several draws and losses have prevented them from cementing their lead in third place, and rivals for the qualification spots, Columbia and Uruguay are only a single point behind them.
Columbia dropped down as far as seventh place during the tournament but has been slowly rising up the table ever since, and their confidence seems to be growing alongside their rise. However, after the last three matches ending in goalless draws, the squad will need to up their game to get some meaningful points on the board, especially if they want to stay ahead of Uruguay.
Uruguay has also been moving slowly up the table from sixth place after the first two matchdays. Unfortunately, the last three fixtures dented their plans, seeing the team drop third to fifth place. Despite the drop, Uruguay still has a very good chance of making the 2022 tournament if they can gain some ground in November.
Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay are also still in the race. Chile is only three points behind Uruguay and Columbia; Bolivia and Paraguay are just four points behind. However, Chile's performance over the tournament has been less than inspiring. Paraguay seems to have been on a downward trajectory since the first two matchdays, and Bolivia has spent most of the competition at the bottom of the table. All three teams will need to show a higher degree of consistency if they stand any chance of overtaking the pack leaders.
Peru, on eleven points, is not entirely out of the running, but their chances of recovering now are, at best, slim. Venezuela, on seven points, would, unfortunately, need a miracle to change their fate at this point in the tournament.
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