Brazil and Argentina closing in on qualification
A fierce fight for Qatar 2022 places ensues
There were landmarks for Lionel Messi and Thiago Silva
October’s international break reaffirmed the dominance of Brazil and Argentina in the South American qualifiers, where they both took seven of nine points on offer to get within touching distance of a place at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. The other big winners were Chile and Bolivia, who each added six points to their tallies to move within reach of the play-off amid an increasingly crowded mid-table. Ecuador will also be happy after holding on to third place, though not without considerable effort. As can be seen from the results below, home advantage was definitely made to count in this window, with just a solitary away win in the 15 matches (Brazil in Venezuela).
Superpowers drive on
Any hint of vulnerability that Brazil might have shown in Venezuela, where there trailed for 70 minutes, or in Colombia, where they dropped their first points of the campaign, was swiftly erased by a brilliant performance against Uruguay to put one foot in Qatar. Argentina also kept their foot firmly on the gas by battling well in Paraguay, comprehensively beating Uruguay and running out narrow but deserved winners against Peru. Everything points to a team in full flight, both collectively and individually.
A mix of resilience and results elsewhere meant it was a fruitful window for Ecuador, who remain third. La Tri began by beating Bolivia comfortably, only to suffer an unexpected reverse in Venezuela. That left them needing to get something from their trip to Colombia, which they duly did, but not without an outstanding performance from their goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez. Fortune also smiled on Colombia, who despite having strikers of the calibre of Radamel Falcao, Duvan Zapata and Roger Martinez, drew all three of their matches 0-0. The points were still enough to move them up to fourth, the last direct qualifying place. Uruguay, in contrast, had a window to forget. After only managing to draw at home to Colombia, they were then soundly beaten by their two traditional rivals, Brazil and Argentina. Despite having just one point and one goal to show for their efforts, they nonetheless occupy the play-off spot in fifth. Fortunately for La Celeste, they have both the talent and the time to change course in the upcoming windows. One team who seem to be back on track are Chile, despite losing El Clasico del Pacifico to Peru in their opening game. With their backs against the wall, they found a way to beat Paraguay and Venezuela, without conceding in either game, and are now within sight of fifth place. Fans of La Roja were thankful for Ben Brereton, who scored in both of those wins. One place and one point further back are Bolivia, who looked down and out after an emphatic defeat by Ecuador in their first game. However, they too rallied to beat Peru and Paraguay in La Paz and are just four points off the play-off spot. Curiously, none of their five goals came from striker Marcelo Martins, who remains top scorer in these qualifiers.
Paraguay are clearly struggling at present after taking just one point from a possible nine and failing to even score. Yet despite dropping to eighth and being manager-less after parting company with the Argentinian Eduardo Berizzo, they are still only four points away from fifth. Elsewhere, the erratic form of Peru shows no sign of abating. Triumphant over neighbours Chile in the derby, they then lost narrowly to both Bolivia and Argentina to slip to second-last in the table – five points from the play-off berth. Despite having Brazil on the ropes for 70 minutes, Venezuela ended up losing to the five-time world champions. A spirited win over Ecuador in their next game gave a flicker of hope but that good work was undone by a comprehensive defeat to Chile in their next outing. They now find themselves nine points off the play-off spot with just six games remaining.
100 Thiago Silva won his 100th Brazil cap by coming off the bench against Colombia. The defender, who is currently his country’s sixth most-capped player of all-time with 101 appearances, is only the eighth Brazilian to surpass the century mark. 80 Lionel Messi scored his 80th goal for Argentina at home to Uruguay, in the process becoming the first South American to reach that mark with his national team.
31 Bolivia’s Rodrigo Ramallo celebrated his 31st birthday on the day of the Paraguay game. To mark the occasion, he helped himself to the opening goal that paved the way for victory in La Paz. 25 Lionel Scaloni is now the second Argentinian coach to go 25 matches unbeaten (16 wins and 9 draws). The other was Alfio Basile, who managed to go 33 games in all. 20 Tite has now overseen 20 victories in World Cup qualifying, making him only the fifth coach to achieve that feat. The Brazilian needed only 23 games get there, considerably less than the other four: Marcelo Bielsa (32), Nestor Pekerman (36), Hernan Gomez (41) and Oscar Tabarez (44). 2 Matchday 12 witnessed the first two penalties to miss the target in the current South American qualifiers: first the Paraguayan Antonio Sanabria put his effort over against Bolivia, then Peru’s Yosimar Yotun did likewise against Argentina. Previously, 23 of the 24 penalties had been converted, with the exception being that of Venezuela’s Yangel Herrera, who had his shot saved.