The South American qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ begins this Friday with four matches taking place up and down the continent. FIFA.com explains the format of the nine-team competition, with the five-time world champions the notable absentees.

. Zone: CONMEBOL
. Format: Round-robin league, with each team playing each other home and away.
. Participating nations (9): Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
. Qualifying berths: 4.5.
. Number of matchdays: 18.
. Dates: The first round of qualifiers will be played on 7 October 2011 and the last on 15 October 2013.

Key questions:
As the host nation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, are Brazil exempt from the qualifying competition?

Yes. As the hosts, they qualify automatically for the world finals, as has always been the case.

Who goes through from the qualifying group?
The top four teams all qualify directly for Brazil 2014, with the fifth-placed team facing a two-legged intercontinental play-off against the fifth-placed team from Asia.

The fixture list is the same as in previous qualifying competitions, so what happens in the absence of Brazil?
As was the case in the qualifiers for France 1998, which Brazil, as defending world champions, did not take part in, the team scheduled to play them on the fixture list will have a rest day. For example, Colombia will sit out the first matchday for this reason, and Ecuador the second.

How will the final standings be decided at the end of the qualifying competition?
As stated in the regulations of the FIFA World Cup, group placings will be determined as follows:

a)      Greatest number of points obtained in all group matches.

b)      Goal difference in all group matches.

c)      Greatest number of goals scored in all group matches.

If two or more teams finish equal on the basis of the three criteria above, how will their rankings be determined?
As stated in the regulations of the FIFA World Cup, their rankings will be determined as follows:

d)      Greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned.

e)      Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned.

f)       Greatest number of goals scored in the group matches between the teams concerned.

g)      Goals scored away from home count double between the teams concerned (if there are only two teams tied).

  • Should the teams concerned remain equal following the application of the criteria above, a play-off will be played on neutral ground, as set out in Section 18, Article 7 of the Regulations of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, available in the right-hand menu.