CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifier Teams Inch Closer to 2022 Goal
Two of the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualification berths available to South American teams have already been claimed - Brazil and Argentina booked their places at the end of 2021. This January window, the eight other CONMEBOL teams in contention have been battling to secure the final two automatic qualification spots. With just four matchdays to go at the beginning of the January window, the race for the remaining slots intensified over the two-day break, with the standings becoming ever more apparent with each match played.
On the second day of the window, Ecuador defended their third-place qualifying spot, while the Uruguayan squad climbed yet another rung in the standings to claim fourth place - they started the break in seventh. Peru dropped from fourth to fifth place, and Chile maintained their slot in sixth. Colombia suffered the most significant loss, slipping down to seventh. They started the window in fourth place, and, with the drop, their World Cup dreams now hang from a very fragile thread.
While the top four teams qualify directly to the World Cup in Qatar, the fifth-placed team at the end of the qualifying competition will have a second chance at qualification through the inter-continental playoffs in June.
The standings have taken shape over the January window, in particular on Day Two:
Though already qualified, Brazil and Argentina still took control of their matches to win and cement their first and second place spots.
Brazil hosted Paraguay, who they cruised past with a score of 4-0, ending the Paraguayans hopes of qualifying. The comfortable win against a subdued Paraguay, lacking in creative ideas and drive, saw goals from Raphinha, Phillippe Coutinho, Antony and Rodrygo. Raphinha, who had already had a goal ruled out in the game's opening minute, hit home in the 28th. The Brazilian winger controlled a long ball from Marquinhos and outwitted two Paraguayan defenders to open the scoring. Coutinho doubled Saleção's lead from thirty meters out in the 68th. The final two goals came in short succession, with a curled ball from Antony in the 86th and a first international goal from Rogrygo in the 88th. Brazil's win brought their total competition points to 39. Paraguay sits on 13 points in ninth place.
Argentina narrowly defeated Colombia 1-0 in an untidy game at home. Despite the slim win, they effectively curtailed Colombia's qualification chances - Uruguay and Chile's match results on the same day didn't help either. Argentina, who were without several key players, including Messi, took advantage of some sloppy Colombian defending to score their only match goal. Lauturo Martinez was left alone in the penalty area and took the opportunity to rifle home the winning shot in the 29th minute of the game. The Colombians fought to create opportunities to equalise but failed to finish any chances. Argentina controlled the majority of play and engineered the most opportunities. Fortunately for Los Cafeteros, their keeper, Camilo Vargas, kept the scoreline low with some superb saves. For Colombia, still on 17 points in seventh place, this was their seventh game in a row without scoring. If they are to stand any hope of qualifying, no matter how slim, they need to find the back of the net during the March break in their final two matches against Bolivia and Venezuela. Even then, their chance to qualify will depend on how well Uruguay, Peru and Chile fare in their remaining games. Argentina left the field with an extra three points bringing their total to 35 points.
Peru hosted Ecuador during their final match of the break. A win for the Ecuadorians would have seen the squad secure their position in third for direct qualification to Qatar. For Peru, a victory would have helped them maintain their fourth-place position - the final direct spot at the 2022 tournament. As it was, the match between the two ended with a 1-1 draw. While Ecuador opened the scoring inside the first few minutes of the game, with Michael Estrada's strike from a long pass, they struggled to maintain control of the ball and create enough chances to score. By the second half, the team seemed to run out of energy, physical and creative. Peru, meanwhile, dominated the ball for much of the scruffy game in Lima but only managed to put one away in the second half to even the playing field. From teammate Luis Advincula's cross, Edison Flores's header gave the Peruvians the equaliser. Ecuador ended the match on 25 points and are on the brink of qualification. They will need to win at least one of their upcoming matches against Paraguay and Argentina to book their World Cup tickets. On the other hand, Peru dropped from fourth to fifth place on 21 points and look likely to take the playoffs place at the end of March. The Incas will need to beat at least one of their final opponents - Uruguay and Paraguay - to maintain their position. If they beat Uruguay, they could move back into direct qualification territory.
Uruguay met with Venezuela on the second day of the window, and while Vinotinto came out fighting, it didn't take long for the Uruguayan squad to control the match. With their attacking quality back on track with a new manager, Diego Monso, onboard, Rodrigo Bentancur showed Uruguay's winning credentials just one minute into the game with a half-volley into the back of the net. The Uruguayans then went on to hammer Venezuela 4-1. The match's second goal came in the 23rd, with an impressive display from newcomer Facundo Pellistri, who assisted Giorgian de Arrascaeta to deliver his home strike. Pellistri made a delightful dribble past three players, cut back to Arrascaeta, who thumped the ball home from close range. Edison Cavani brought the score to 3-0 just before half-time with an overhead kick from the six-yard line. Luis Suárez added another in the 53rd via a penalty. Venezuela's Josef Martinez snatched back a consolation goal in the 65th minute, but it was of little help to the overall score. Venezuela, whose hopes of qualification were put to bed some time ago, ended the window in tenth place on 10 points. Uruguay rose to fourth place and an automatic qualification position on 22 points. In March, La Celeste will need to beat Peru to maintain their direct qualification spot.
Bolivia and Chile went head to head on the final day of the break. Both teams were gunning for the win and, while Chile triumphed 3-2, if it hadn't been for some impressive saves from the Chilean keeper Brayan Cortes, the scoreline may have been different. As it was, Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring for Chile in the 14th minute with a swerving free-kick, which Bolivia managed to equalise in the 37th. Into the second half, Chile's Marcelino Nunez put his team back in the lead, and a second decisive goal from Sanchez gave La Roja the win in the 85th. Bolivia's Marcelo Martins Moreno clawed a goal back in the match's dying moments, but it was Chile who took the points. Chile ended the break on 19 points, just out of qualification range in sixth place. Up against Brazil and Uruguay in March, it will be an uphill battle for the Chileans to improve their qualification chances. Bolivia still sits in eighth spot on 15 points.
The standings after Day Two of the January break:
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