November 04, 2020

South American World Cup Qualifiers - The State of Play

The first fixtures of the South American 2022 World Cup qualifiers kicked off on October 9th '20. The initial matches took place after numerous postponements this year in the wake of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. The tournament got underway despite concerns over rising infection rates on the continent and the risk to travelling international players. The result: some tightly contested matches, some typically South American flamboyant-style football, and plenty of superstar players in attendance.

COVID-Time Qualifiers

Since March '20, the majority of the six confederations have postponed their qualifying tournaments, many until early 2021. However, national confederation tournaments have slowly begun to take place, albeit without supporters in the stands. With some competitions taking place successfully during the pandemic (the AFC Champions League in Qatar, the UEFA Nations League in Europe, etc.), with strict safety protocols and measures in place, football's recovery is beginning to take shape. If CONMEBOL can similarly pull off a successful international tournament in the face of coronavirus, it bodes well for the rest of the world's World Cup qualifying competitions next year.

And, so far, so good. The first two matchdays have been played - a total of ten matches between ten nations playing both a home and an away game apiece. Players from across the globe have been called home for international duty, with FIFA making exceptions to the usual international player release rules to ensure player safety and availability for club matches. To date, only two players, Peruvian's Raúl Ruidíaz and Alex Valera have tested positive for COVID-19 during the tournament. Both were isolated and ruled out of further games.

So, how do the standings look now and what were the highs and lows of the competition so far...

The State of Play

The following table highlights the CONMEBOL qualifier standings after the first two match days:

CountryPointsWonDrawnLostFIFA Ranking
BrazilPoints6Won2Drawn0Lost0FIFA Ranking3
ArgentinaPoints6Won2Drawn0Lost0FIFA Ranking9
ColumbiaPoints4Won1Drawn1Lost0FIFA Ranking10
ParaguayPoints4Won1Drawn1Lost0FIFA Ranking40
EcuadorPoints3Won1Drawn0Lost1FIFA Ranking64
UruguayPoints3Won1Drawn0Lost1FIFA Ranking6
ChilePoints1Won0Drawn1Lost1FIFA Ranking17
PeruPoints1Won0Drawn1Lost1FIFA Ranking22
VenezuelaPoints0Won0Drawn0Lost2FIFA Ranking25
BoliviaPoints0Won0Drawn0Lost2FIFA Ranking75

Matchday Action

The first two qualifier match days were held during the October international window. A further 16 days will be played between November ‘20 and March ‘22. The recent leg of the tournament threw up plenty of surprises, the usual victories and defeats, and the odd controversy:

Matchday 1

Paraguay v Peru (2 - 2)

Paraguay and Peru both gave exciting performances in their opening match for the 2022 South American qualifiers. The match, held in the Estadio Defensores del Chaco in Asunción, may have been quiet in the stands but the action was pure entertainment for home viewers.

Following a goalless first half, it was all action in the second half. Andre Carrillo put Peru ahead at the start of the second period, but the lead only lasted fourteen minutes until Paraguay substitute Angel Romero stuck home twice within fifteen minutes. In a tense finish, with just five minutes remaining, Carrillo hit the back of the net again to take his team to a draw with Paraguay.

Argentina v Ecuador (1 - 0)

The match between the Argentinians and Ecuadorians was a low key start to the tournament with muted performances on both sides - attributed the length of time teams have gone without training or playing together. Lionel Messi scored the match winner in the 13th minute with a penalty.

Both teams put plenty of physicality into the game, but on the whole, it lacked rhythm. Argentina had possession more often than not and spent more time in Ecuador’s half, but they didn't necessarily play any better than Ecuador. Other than Messi’s goal, the Argentine team didn’t create any real danger, and the Ecuadorian side lacked the skill to capitalise on that.

Brazil v Bolivia (5 - 0)

The Brazilian team extended their unbeaten record of home wins at World Cup qualifiers after they demolished Bolivia in their opening match. The convincing victory included four goals by the Brazilian's and an unfortunate own goal by Bolivian, José Carrasco.

Brazil dominated from the outset with Marquinhos, in the 16th minute, heading a powerful shot past Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe to open the scoring. Bolivia's open defence was further taken advantage of as Roberto Firmino tapped the ball home twice either side of half time. Carrasco's deflected ball into his own net to put the Brazillian's on 4-0 just past the hour mark, with Philippe Coutinho's header extending their lead to 5-0 with seventeen minutes remaining.

Uruguay v Chile (2 - 1)

The Uruguayans won their match against Chile but not without controversy. The Chileans bristled about penalty decisions made in favour of the Brazilians, in particular one decision made with the help of the VAR, and the referee's refusal to consider Peru's own penalty claims, including one clear handball in the dying minutes of the match.

Luis Suárez opened the scoring with a goal from the penalty spot just before half-time. The shot was awarded after VAR footage showed the ball bouncing off Chilean player Sebastián Vegas' body and onto his arm as he slid in to block a shot. Alexis Sánchez equalised for Chile, but Maxi Gómez sealed the victory for the Uruguayans with an exciting late goal during injury time.

Columbia v Venezuela (3 - 0)

The match was a disappointing start to the qualifiers for the Venezuelan team, the only South American football team never to have qualified for the FIFA World Cup. And, it was a fairly painful and unfortunate match for Columbian defender, Santiago Arias (newly selected for the national team) who fractured his left tibia and tore his ankle ligaments during the game.

The first goal of the match, from Duván Zapata's boot, came after ten minutes of play. Luis Muriel scored the final two goals within the first half.

Matchday 2

Argentina v Bolivia (2 - 1)

For the first time since 2005, Argentina defeated rivals Bolivia on their home turf in La Paz. Physically, it was a tough game at an altitude of 3,600 m, but the Argentinians, after a shaky start, dominated the second half of the match to gain a 2-1 victory.

The first goal of the match was fired home for Bolivia after twenty-four minutes by an unmarked Marcelo Moreno Martins. However, as half time loomed without a score for Argentina, Lautaro Martínez gave the team a boost seconds before the end of the first period with an equaliser just yards from goal. And, eleven minutes before the final whistle, substitute Joaquín Correa gave Argentina the lead with a swift left-foot strike.

The history between the two teams on Bolivian soil seemed to heighten tension on the pitch with Messi and Martins having a very heated discussion after the match ended. It was unclear what started the fracas, but the two players had to be pulled away from one another.

Paraguay v Venezuela (1 - 0)

It was another loss for Venezuela against Paraguay in the opening matches of the 2022 qualifiers. The hosts walked away defeated as Paraguay's Gastón Giménez thumped the ball to the back of their net in the game's 85th minute. Even a penalty shot by Yangel Herrera in the final moments of the match couldn't provide Venezuela with a much-needed goal. Goalkeeper Anthony Silva made a perfect save robbing the Venezuelans of a draw.

Columbia v Chile (2 - 2)

In a tightly contested match held in Santiago's Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos, Columbia and Chile drew level with two goals each.

After a mere seven minutes a header from Jefferson Lerma, his first for the national team, took Columbia into a decisive lead, maintaining their unbeaten start to the World Cup qualifications. However, in the 38th minute, a goal from Arturo Vidal took the host team level with Columbia, and just three minutes shy of half time an opportunist goal from Alexis Sánchez took Chile ahead. But, in the 72nd minute, Radamel Falcao, off the bench, chipped a shot from Johan Mojica into the net and gave Columbia their share of the points.

Ecuador v Uruguay (4 - 2)

Uruguay suffered a heavy defeat in Quito on October 14th against the Ecuadorian host team. After just thirteen minutes Ecuador went up 1-0 when a header from Moises Caicedo, assisted by Ángel Mena with a cross following a corner, hit the back of the net. Michael Estrada hammered home two more goals either side of half time, and Gonzalo Plata took the total to four with a left-footed shot from the right side of the six-yard box. Even two late goals from Luis Suárez couldn't save the day for the Uruguayans who now sit 6th on the points table. However, Suárez succeeded in improving the goal difference, which could make all the difference when the qualifiers come to an end.

Brazil v Peru (4 - 2)

Brazil's match against Peru was a talking point not just for the game's vigorous action, but also for Neymar's hat trick. The three goals scored by the Brazilian took his international total to 64 goals, surpassing Brazillian legend, Ronaldo, and leaving him just shy of leading goal scorer for the national team, Pelé. However, some of Neymar's game tactics, diving in the penalty area, caused some to question the veracity of his playmaking.

Brazil dominated in an attacking position throughout much of the game. However, Peru was equally as good defensively and managed to stay level with the Brazilians until the last ten minutes. Peru's André Carrillo scored the opening goal after six minutes with a crisp volley from outside the box. Neymar equalised shortly afterwards. The second half saw another goal from Peruvian, Rodrigo Caio, which was countered by a goal from Richarlison five minutes later. Then, in the final minutes and during injury time, Neymar dashed the Peruvian's hopes with another two shots to the back of the net.

Hope for 2021

The CONMEBOL qualifiers have so far been a success. The matches saw plenty of action and have kicked-off what promises to be an exciting and challenging tournament, not-with-standing COVID-19. For football fans worldwide, the resumption of international football is a signal of hope for the future - many will now eagerly await spectators being allowed back into stadiums. Above all, the games signal a step closer to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Main Image: Edson Flores Silloca/

Published: October 22, 2020
Last updated: November 04, 2020
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