The long road to Qatar 2022 began for South American teams in October last year, with ten CONMEBOL teams competing for the available 4.5 slots for the group stages in the FIFA World Cup.
With four rounds already played between October and November last year, the fifth round—the first of this year—comes up next month with ten different matches taking place between March 25th to March 30th, 2021.
March fixtures will feature mouth-watering clashes between perennial rivals Argentina and Uruguay, while competition heavyweights Brazil and Argentina will also square up in this round of matches.
As teams begin to warm up for the international break, let’s look briefly at what has happened so far, as well as what to expect in the upcoming qualifiers.
Unlike in most other continents, the format adopted by the CONMEBOL Council on 24 January 2019, was structured in such a way that the ten teams will play in a league of home-and-away round-robin matches with the top four teams qualifying automatically for the competition, while the fifth-placed team qualifies for an International playoff.
What Has Happened so far?
After four rounds of matches, Brazil tops the table with twelve points after taking four wins from four games. The five-time winners have scored twelve goals and conceded just two to remain the team to beat in the continent.
They are followed by their close neighbours and two-time winners, Argentina, who have won three of their opening four games (D1). La Albiceleste are struggling to break down teams this time around and have scored just six times in the qualifying round so far.
Elsewhere, Ecuador, led by Gustavo Alfaro, has been the surprise team so far as they currently sit in third place ahead of more established names like Uruguay, Chile and Colombia. With 13 goals to their name in four games, Le Tricolor have scored the most goals so far, including a 6-1 demolition of Colombia in November. Their only loss so far came against Argentina, as they seek to reach the fourth FIFA World Cup in their history.
Meanwhile, Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Angel Romero (Paraguay) and Arturo Vidal (Chile) top the scoring charts with four goals apiece, while Bolivia and Peru are bottom of the table with one point each.
Also, Chile by their lofty standards is underperforming. They currently occupy the sixth place with four points and a goal difference of zero after scoring and conceding six times in four games.
Their poor form led to the appointment of former Real Sociedad coach Martin Lasarte following the exit of Reinaldo Rueda. The Uruguayan has been tasked with restoring the fortunes of Chile.
CONMEBOL FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualification Table
With 65 matches yet to be played across 13 rounds, a lot of entertainment and shockers still lies ahead for viewers. Here are a few things to expect in the coming days.
Luis Suarez to top the scoring Charts
Luis Suarez looks like he has been there forever in this Uruguayan side, and on the evidence of his recent performances isn’t going anywhere soon. The nimble forward has been in this team since he was and has scored times, making him Uruguay’s leading scorer and most prolific striker in the nation’s history.
At 34, El Pistolero is supposed to be slowing down. But rather than slow down, he is back among the goals after being released by Barcelona and is tormenting defenders every day in Spain. The striker is playing like a possessed man and will look to establish his legacy as a Uruguay great by taking his team to the World Cup.
He already has four goals in three games and is looking the most likely to top the scoring charts.
Brazil to Keep Winning
Frankly, there seems no stopping of Tite’s Brazil. The Seleção have a formidable team from back to front and are playing one of their best football in recent times. While other teams struggle with poor form and identity, the table toppers are looking comfortable and are head and shoulders above the rest.
A contingent of big players across Europe and at home also means that the Seleção have a ready replacement should any player be side-lined due to COVID.
Expect them to retain top spot.
Chile to Bounce Back
Martin Lasarte’s appointment as Chile manager doesn’t really call for much excitement as the 59-year-old is not among the royal names in football coaching.
However, the Uruguayan boasts a decent CV and looks nailed on to do a good job with La Roja. With his experience in the South American league where he coached Nacional and River Plate to Uruguayan league titles, Lasarte looks set to restore Chile back to their place in the CONMEBOL elite.
Surely, 13 games are more than enough time to achieve such a feat for the new boss.
Ecuador will take some stopping
Ecuador looks like a team that really mean business under Gustavo Alfaro. The third-placed side are fun to watch and are banging in the goals in this tournament.
Although they seem to be leaking goals at the back with six goals conceded in four games, their energy and commitment under Gustavo Alfaro look like it will be enough to see them cross the finish line.
Many are betting on La Tri to push the elites very far and claim a spot for Qatar 2022. Surely a team to look out for as the worst-case scenario will see them make the play-off spot.
Messi’s Final Days with Argentina
Argentina’s golden generation is slowly fading, and at the helm of that generation is a certain Lionel Messi. Arguably the best player of all time, the Barcelona man has been under the radar in recent times.
He still seems to carry the entire nation on his shoulders, but the weight of responsibility could well break him beyond repair. The fact remains that he has scored two goals in four World Cup qualifying matches, but the signs of a strain are evident on the Argentina captain.
He will surely try his best to push his team to Qatar, but this is surely his last days.
Perhaps the end of an era.