November Break - Two of South America’s Finest Qualify for 2022
The CONMEBOL 2022 qualifiers tournament continued at a pace this November window. And, with two more matchdays completed and only four more to play, Brazil and Argentina have already done enough to secure their places at the FIFA World Cup Qatar.
The South American World Cup qualifiers competition is contested by ten nations over eighteen matchdays in a round-robin format of home and away head-to-heads. Fourteen matchdays have been played, and the action has been wrapped up for 2021. When the tournament starts again in January 2022, each team will have just four games to earn their ticket to Qatar for the first-ever winter World Cup.
With Brazil and Argentina already earning their places at the 2022 tournament, only two direct slots remain in contention - South America was awarded just four direct World Cup places. A final slot can be won via an inter-confederation playoff competition in June 2022 - open only to the fifth qualifying team. So, the race is on for the remaining top three places.
The Seleção have been leading the qualifiers since the tournament kicked off in October 2020. The Brazilians maintained a 100% record over ten consecutive matches for the first year of the competition. Their perfect record was smashed during the October 2021 window when hosts Colombia held the team to a goalless draw. Nonetheless, the Golden Squad’s unbeaten record continued, and the team have racked up eleven wins and two draws to date.
During the latest international break, Brazil took on Colombia at home. On this occasion, the Seleção managed to score a single but vital goal, earning them another three points for the win. The game itself was hard-fought if a little lacking in creativity. The winning shot was a late effort from Lucas Paqueta; taking a quick-thinking pass from Neymar, Paqueta thumped the ball across the goal and into the back of the net, beating Colombian keeper David Ospina by a minuscule margin. However, it was all that was needed. The slim victory pushed Brazil up to 34 points on the leaderboard, eighteen points ahead of fourth and fifth-placed Chile and Colombia - neither of whom would be able to catch Brazil over the final five matchdays.
The win against Los Cafeteros secured the Brazilian’s place at the FIFA 2022 World Cup five matches early (six if you count the suspended Brazil vs Argentina match in September). They were the first South American side to qualify and the third competing team to do so after Germany and Denmark.
During the final day of the November break, Brazil faced Argentina. A goalless draw earned the tournament’s top dog just one point but, since the team had already qualified and their unbeaten run was left intact, there was still plenty to celebrate.
Like Brazil, Argentina is unbeaten in the CONMEBOL 2022 qualifiers to date. And, despite playing one less match than their opponents due to the suspended Brazil vs Argentina game, the La Albiceleste ended the November break on 29 points, from eight wins and five draws, making them the second South American team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
At the start of the window, Argentina sat in second place on 25 points, only eight points clear of third-placed Ecuador and nine above Columbia and Uruguay in fourth and fifth place, respectively, with six matches left to play. However, a 1-0 win over Uruguay and a draw with Brazil, plus favourable results elsewhere on the table, meant that the Argentine side ended the break mathematically assured of a place in Qatar.
Against Uruguay, the boys in white and blue felt the pressure. The Uruguayans, after a 3-0 defeat to Argentina in October, were out for revenge. Although not the dominant side possession-wise, Uruguay took every opportunity on the offensive, lining up shot after shot at the Argentine goal. However, despite their best efforts, none hit the target. Meanwhile, Argentina’s Angel Di Maria punted home a magnificent curled shot into the goal after just seven minutes, and it was the only goal needed to take the three points.
Argentina’s second match of the break against Brazil was hard-fought on both sides. The game lacked clear opportunities to score - neither goalkeeper was challenged very much - but there was plenty of end-to-end action. The closest chances to break the deadlock came from Brazil’s Vinicius Junior, with a near-miss in the second half, and Fred, who hit the bar with his attempt. And, Argentina’s Rodrigo De Paul, with a shot five minutes before halftime that Brazil’s Alisson saved, and a saved edge-of-the-box attempt from Messi in the dying minutes.
At the end of the November break, the standings stack up as follows:
|Brazil (Q)||Points35||Goal Difference23|
|Argentina (Q)||Points29||Goal Difference14|
|Ecuador (qualifying spot)||Points23||Goal Difference10|
|Colombia (qualifying spot)||Points17||Goal Difference-1|
|Chile (playoff spot)||Points17||Goal Difference-5|
Heading into 2022, Ecuador is well established in third place on 23 points and ahead of closest rivals Columbia and Peru by six points. Still, the Ecuadorians are up against Brazil and Argentina in their final four matches, so they will need to fight tooth and nail to keep their coveted position. Behind Ecuador is a veritable melee of contenders for Qatar's last two direct tickets and the fifth-place playoff spot. Columbia, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay are all still in contention.
In fourth place, Colombia will need to register a win against Peru in the tournament's opening match in January to put some distance between the two - both sit on 17 points currently, with Peru behind in fifth on goal difference. Colombia's second match of the January break is against Argentina. However, their last two games against the Argentines have ended in draws. If they can hold La Albiceleste again, they stand a good chance of maintaining their position as they go up against slightly easier opponents - eighth-placed Bolivia and tenth-placed Venezuela over the March window.
In fifth place, Peru has a tough job on their hands to stay in qualification contention. The team has had a very variable tournament to date. Starting the competition in eighth position, Peru has been as low as tenth place, and their current position in fifth is their highest in the tournament to date. Los Incas face Colombia and Ecuador in January and Uruguay and Paraguay in March. Only Columbia has beaten the Peruvians in the competition to date. So, if Peru keeps their nerve, it may keep hold of its qualification spot.
Currently, outside of the qualification positions at the top of the table, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay will need to do everything they can to displace Colombia and Ecuador to keep their World Cup dreams alive!
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