Brazil pull clear of chasing pack

  • A Canarinha well out in front in CONMEBOL Zone standings

  • Argentina maintain momentum, Uruguay move on up

  • Five points now separate fifth from seventh

September’s triple-header proved to be a productive exercise for the leading lights in the South American preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, while leaving many a doubt hanging over the qualification bids of several other contenders. looks at how the teams are placed after three eventful matchdays.

Heavyweights set the pace

Brazil maintained their perfect record by winning the two games they played without letting in a goal, one of those victories coming in Chile. Their six consecutive matches without conceding is a record for CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying competitions. Not content to rack up landmarks, the Brazilians continue to unearth proven performers, with Everton Ribeiro and Weverton both making the most of their opportunities once more.

With a six-point lead over their nearest challengers and 11 points separating them from fourth, Tite’s charges look all but certain of a place at Qatar 2022.

Argentina tightened their grip on second place, winning both the games they played, conceding just one goal in the process, and showing even more solidity as a team. Led by the peerless Lionel Messi, who broke another record in scoring a hat-trick against Bolivia, Lionel Scaloni’s side are showing that they have the personnel to stay the pace in the race to Qatar 2022.

Uruguay were the other big winners of the triple-header, despite having to make do without Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. La Celeste picked up seven points from their three outings, moving into third at the expense of Ecuador after beating them with a stoppage-time goal in Montevideo. Having previously gone three matches without scoring, Uruguay have been indebted to their attacking midfielders, not least Giorgian de Arrascaeta, who helped himself to three goals in two matches.

Mid-table manoeuvres

Despite that late 1-0 defeat in Uruguay, Ecuador remain in the automatic qualification places, thanks to the four points they amassed in Quito from a nerve-racking win over Paraguay and a draw with Chile. La Tri can take heart from the fact they conceded just once against three direct rivals. Their task now is to rediscover the attacking prowess they showed at the start of the qualifiers.

Colombia also had a very positive few days, collecting five points to stay in the play-off position, just behind Ecuador on goal difference. Reinaldo Rueda’s side earned valuable draws on challenging away days in Bolivia and Paraguay before comprehensively beating Chile at home. Miguel Borja set them on the way in that game with two goals in 90 seconds, while Juan Cuadrado and Luis Diaz also made telling contributions.

After conceding late goals to lose to Ecuador and then drawing with Colombia in Asuncion, Paraguay gained some consolation with a home defeat of Venezuela. The win left them sixth, out of the qualification places but with a three-point advantage over seventh-placed Peru. The challenge now facing Eduardo Berizzo – La Albirroja’s Argentinian coach – is to find a cutting edge up front without relinquishing his side’s defensive balance.  

The rest

Peru picked up four points in three games to move into seventh, but still lie five points off the qualification places with nine games still to play. Ricardo Gareca’s men showed in the Russia 2018 preliminaries that they have what it takes to get over the line, though regaining some consistency would help them in their endeavours. Having drawn with Uruguay and lost to Brazil, they need a big result to truly move into contention.

Chile passed up another opportunity to do just that, losing to Brazil in Santiago, drawing in Ecuador and falling to another defeat in Colombia to drop back to eighth. La Roja have gone six games without a win and have left themselves with virtually no margin for error.

Bolivia’s hopes have also nosedived. After a run of four games without defeat, they lost in Uruguay and Argentina and have left themselves with an awful lot to do in the second half of the competition. Bottom-placed Venezuela are in an even tougher position after failing to pick up a single point in September. They will now hope that the appointment of a permanent coach can reverse their flagging fortunes.

The stats

79: With his hat-trick against Bolivia, Messi moved past Pele as South America’s leading all-time men’s international goalscorer. Some 26 of his 79 goals for Argentina have now come in World Cup qualifying matches, putting him one goal ahead of his friend Luis Suarez as the leading marksman in the history of the CONMEBOL preliminaries.

21: With the two goals he scored in September, Bolivia’s Marcelo Martins moved out front as the leading marksmen in the current qualification campaign with eight goals. In the process, he also took his career World Cup qualifying tally to 21, putting him third on the all-time list, ahead of former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo.

126: The number of appearances Fernando Muslera has made in the Uruguay goal, taking him past Maximiliano Pereira as the second most-capped player in the history of La Celeste. Only team-mate Diego Godin stands ahead of him on 148 caps.

12: Neymar’s goal against Peru made him Brazil’s leading all-time scorer in World Cup qualifiers, as he moved past Romario and Zico, who are tied on 11. With 69 international goals in total, he is now eight behind Pele, the highest scorer in the history of A Canarinha.

9: The number of consecutive World Cup qualifying wins Brazil have now put together, equalling the all-time record they themselves set between September 2016 and August 2017.