CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers Kick-Off
Despite South America having one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, CONMEBOL was insistent on getting its World Cup 2022 qualifying competition underway this month. Though backed by FIFA, the decision has caused a fair amount of uproar from clubs required to release international players. Indeed, some of America and Canada's Major League Soccer teams refused to let their players go. Not particularly surprising considering the obvious dangers created by the pandemic. However, despite the ensuing hoo-ha, the tournament kicked off successfully on Thursday evening (October 8th) with numerous internationals making it onto the field.
The start of the competition saw Paraguay facing up to Peru on home soil, Argentina taking on Ecuador in their capital city, and Uruguay facing off against Chile, also at home. Uruguay's Luis Suarez scored the first goal of the tournament. His teammate, Maxi Gomez scored again in extra time to take a 2-1 lead over the Chileans. In the capital city of Asuncion, Paraguay and Peru drew level with two goals each in a nail-biting second half. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi scored an early penalty conversion in Buenos Aires in a lacklustre match that saw the Argentinians win 1-0 against the visitors. A good start to the competition, but there is a long way to go before the final whistle.
South America's qualifying home-and-away format is a marathon event - ten teams each playing a home and away game against the other nine. Introduced in 1996, the CONMEBOL format makes these qualifiers the longest-running of any of the confederations. With 18 rounds spread over more than two years, it is also one of the most competitive and challenging. This year's COVID-postponements have, for a format that leaves little wriggle room for changing dates, put substantial pressure on the already concertinaed calendar over the next year and a half. Any further delays and postponements may require some significant rethinking - not only in terms of format and calendars but also the impact on the teams. Thursday evenings inaugural matches, especially Argentina v Ecuador, were at times as dull as dishwater as teams struggled to gel not having played or trained together for so long.
However, for now, the road to 2022 is just a little bit shorter.
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