World Cup Qualifiers In South America Hit The Halfway Mark
The September international football window was a fruitful affair for some of South America's football giants. Halfway into the competition to qualify for the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the race to the top spots seems, for some, like a done deal. For others, doubt hangs over the likelihood that they will qualify at all. To change their fortunes now, with only nine matchdays left, would be a mammoth task.
Highs and Lows
After the South American 2022 qualifiers competition concludes, only four top teams will advance directly to the World Cup. The fifth-placed team will go into an intercontinental playoff (June 2022) for a last chance to qualify. The rest will have to wait until the qualifiers for the 2026 tournament for another roll of the dice.
Midway through the competition, a lot is riding on each match played. The last three matchdays have been full of highs and lows as crucial wins have been made and, in some cases, much-needed gains have been forfeited. The tournament has also witnessed plenty of added drama, good and bad, alongside the football played. Argentina's Lionel Messi broke yet another record overtaking Pele as the top international goalscorer in South American history, for which he received much admiration. Neymar also broke the record for most goals in World Cup qualifiers, for which he reportedly received desultory recognition. Most teams played their matches without European-based players due to COVID restrictions imposed by their respective governments. FIFA threatened to ban clubs that didn't release players but made an about-face after considering talks and agreements with clubs and governments involved. And, Brazil and Argentina's anticipated clash was interrupted by Brazil's health authorities, minutes after the starting whistle, who proceeded to suspend the match and demand four England-based players be deported back to the UK. The players had, apparently, breached the Brazilian government's COVID protocols. FIFA have yet to decide whether the faceoff will be rescheduled or not.
But back to the football. Brazil leads the pack on twenty-four points at the end of this competition phase, with Argentina only six points away in second place. Both teams have played one less game than their rivals after the Brazilian health authorities suspended their head-to-head. Uruguay fought and won their spot in third position on 15 points after winning over Ecuador on matchday three. Ecuador slipped down one place to fourth despite a win and a draw in the first two matchdays. Columbia and Paraguay maintained their position in fifth and sixth, respectively. Peru jumped up from tenth place to seventh after a win and a draw. Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela all dropped one spot and remained at the bottom end of the standings.
Brazil started the September window with eighteen points and, despite missing nine European players, moved up six to close the week out on twenty-four points, having added another two wins to their tally. The Brazilian squad has a 100% record in the tournament, winning eight of their eight matches. Against Chile in Santiago, the Brazilians weren't on the ball as much as their rivals, but Everton Ribeiro managed to put one away in the 64th minute to give the squad a 1-0 win. Since the match with Argentina on September 6th was cancelled, Brazil's final three points came from their 2-0 win over Peru. Once again, Everton Ribeiro found the back of the net for his team, a side-footed goal from a Neymar assist. Ribeiro almost scored for a second time, but the shot was saved - until Neymar punted the ball home off the rebound. The Seleção have been at the top of the standing since matchday one and finished matchday ten still sitting comfortably in first place.
Argentina acquired six points from two wins to finish the window on eighteen, having started on twelve points. The Argentinians maintained their spot in second place and, though only three points ahead of Uruguay, have a game in hand. La Albiceleste's first match of the window against Venezuela ended in a 3-1 win. The comfortable win was chalked up by Lautaro Martinez, with a goal just before halftime, Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa, who found the back of the net in close succession in the 71st and 74th minutes. Following the suspended match against Brazil, the Argentines played and beat Bolivia at home for their final three points. Messi scored a hat trick and his ‘top international goalscorer for South America record’ in the 14th, 64th and 88th minutes.
Uruguay moved from fourth position to third with a draw and two wins. In their first match of this tournament phase, La Celeste came from behind to equalise with Peru with a shot from Georgian de Arrascaeta. Unfortunately, the team couldn't find the back of the net again for the win and had to settle for one point. Against Bolivia, they boosted their chances of qualification with a dominant win, scoring four goals to two. Arrascaeta scored the opening goal and a second from a penalty in the second half, and teammates Frederico Valverde and Augustin Alverez netted the other two. The Uruguayans final match of the week was opposite Ecuador, ahead of Uruguay by one point. The game was the decider for third place at this stage, and while it was a close call between the two on the day, Uruguay's Gaston Pereiro found the back of the net in stoppage time to take the win and put his team on fifteen points - two ahead of Ecuador.
Dropping one place to fourth on the table will have been a blow to Ecuador, who will have been hoping for a win over Uruguay to maintain third place. Despite a decent amount of play end-to-end for both teams, the 1-0 loss to Uruguay meant the Ecuadorians ended this phase on 13 points - two behind La Celeste. However, La Tri scored a last-minute 2-0 win over Paraguay and a draw against Chile earlier in the week to take four points and remain in one of the tables' automatic qualification positions. Against Paraguay, a header from Felix Torres hit the back of the net in the 88th minute, followed by a goal from Michael Estrada in extra time. Against Chile, though both sides took an even number of shots at goal, neither could find the back of the net.
Colombia earned five points over the September window following two draws and a win. Having started the week on eight points, they ended with thirteen - their efforts saw them maintain their fifth-place playoff position throughout the week. At altitude in La Paz, the Colombians took the lead with a goal from Roger Martinez in the 69th minute. However, the Bolivians belted one home to equalise in the 83rd. Against the Paraguayans, Los Cafeteros came from behind to equalise from a penalty in the 53rd. With just two points from six, the Colombians needed a win in their final match. Their head-to-head with Chile couldn't have gone any better. Three goals to one, two inside two minutes in the first half, and the third in the final sixteen minutes. Colombia now sits just behind Ecuador on the leader board on goal difference.
Paraguay gained just four points across the week, though they managed to stay in sixth place with only two points less than Colombia. The Paraguayans 2-0 loss to Ecuador and hard-fought 1-1 draw against Colombia will have been disappointing. But, their 2-1 win over Venezuela will have consoled Los Guaraníes somewhat. Despite the Venezuelans spending more time on the ball and aiming the sticks more often, Paraguay's Hector Martinez scored with a stunning 25-metre strike only seven minutes into the game, and Alejandro Romero netted the second one minute into the second half. Venezuela could only manage to pull one back in stoppage time.
Peru began the week at the bottom of the table on four points from a possible eighteen. Thanks to a win and a draw, they gained four points and moved up the standing to seventh position. In their opening match against Uruguay, Peru's Renato Tapia smashed the ball to the back of the net from an impressive bicycle kick twenty-four minutes into the game. However, Uruguay equalised five minutes later for the draw. Taking on Venezuela, Peru opened the scoring in the first half when Christian Cueva intercepted a loose pass and thumped it home past the keeper. Los Incas failed to collect any points as they lost 2-0 to Brazil in their final match.
Chile dropped from seventh to eighth position across the week, gaining just one point. They lost 1-0 to Brazil at the start of the window. Though the Chileans held most possession and made numerous goal attempts, they didn't manage to hit the target or get past Brazil's keeper. Opposite Colombia, Chile suffered a more significant loss going down 3-1 to Los Cafeteros. Jean Meneses did manage to pull one back for La Roja in the second half, but it wasn't enough to contain the Colombians. However, Chile did manage to hold Ecuador to a goalless draw earning their single point.
Bolivia also fell one place to ninth on the table, earning just one point and ending the window on six from a possible twenty-seven. The week started well for the Bolivians, who held Colombia to a draw with an 88th-minute equaliser. Nevertheless, the one point gained from the match was La Verde's last for the week. They lost 4-2 to a dominant Uruguay, who opened the scoring fifteen minutes into the game and hit the back of the net on three more occasions. Despite two goals from Moreno Martins, Bolivia couldn't catch the opposition. And, facing Argentina, Bolivia's hopes took a pounding as Messi found the back of the net three times to take the win.
Venezuela hit the bottom of the table after a desperately frustrating window. The Venezuelans took not a single point from the week, losing 3-1 to Argentina, 1-0 to Peru, and 2-1 to Paraguay. La Vinotinto needed wins or draws this week to stand any chance of qualifying. The competition so far has seen the Venezuelans lose six of the eight games played, with only one win over Chile and a draw against Uruguay. The Venezuelans were disadvantaged against Argentina and Peru, going down to ten men on both occasions. Adrain Martinez was sent off for a foul on Messi, and Tomas Rincon was sent to the bench after two fouls against the Peruvians. Paraguay, Venezuela held on to the ball but didn't convert more than one goal attempt.
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