South American qualifying for Qatar 2022 begins today
Uruguay-Chile is the standout fixture from Round 1
Five coaches making their qualifiers debut
Not even a seven-month delay caused by a global pandemic can dampen expectations ahead of the South American qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
Aside from how external circumstances might impact each country, three teams – Brazil, Uruguay and Peru – start with what would seem to be an advantage. In Tite, Oscar Tabarez and Ricardo Gareca, the trio have the same coaches who guided them to Russia 2018.
Of the seven other teams, only Chile and Bolivia have coaches with prior experience of the continental qualifiers. The pair in question are the Colombian Reinaldo Rueda and Venezuelan Cesar Farias, both of whom have already navigated what many consider to be the world’s hardest qualifying competition at the helm of other countries.
All of which leaves three Argentinians: Lionel Scaloni (Argentina), Gustavo Alfaro (Ecuador) and Eduardo Berizzo (Paraguay), and two Portuguese: Carlos Queiroz (Colombia) and Jose Peseiro (Venezuela) making their debuts in the competition. FIFA.com previews the start of the action.
Matchday 1 schedule (all times local)
Uruguay-Chile, Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)
With every point precious in this fiercely competitive zone, this clash between two sides with aspirations to claim one of the automatic qualifying berths looks a fascinating one. The potential of Uruguay lies both in the quality of veterans like Luis Suarez and Diego Godin, and that of their youngsters, be it Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Betancour or Matias Vina, one of the most recent new talents to emerge. It remains to be seen how Tabarez deals with big-name absentees, like that of Edinson Cavani up front and Fernando Muslera in goal.
Rueda also has selection problems, being unable to call upon, among others, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, defenders Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla, and midfielder Erik Pulgar, all regular starters for Chile as they aim to get back to the World Cup after missing out on Russia 2018.
This makes it even more important for big names like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, as well as regular squad players Charles Aranguiz and Eduardo Vargas, to play a more prominent role, not least because they will need to support relative newcomers like Francisco Sierralta and Claudio Baeza.
The stat: Uruguay have never lost at home to Chile in World Cup qualifying (seven wins and one draw, dating back to 2007).
In Buenos Aires, perennial candidates Argentina welcome Ecuador, another side who missed out on Russia 2018. Lionel Messi will be taking part in his fifth qualifying campaign with a new look team, albeit with the same obligations. Facing them are a rival that not only won on their last visit to Argentina, but who also have in Alfaro a coach that once analysed opponents for La Albiceleste.
Peru, the revelation of the last qualifiers, begin their campaign in Asuncion against a Paraguay side hoping to return to the World Cup after sitting out the last two editions. Aside from Paolo Guerrero's absence through injury, La Blanquirroja will likely stick with the core of the team that won here on their last visit. La Albirroja, by contrast, are expected to introduce several new faces under the watchful eye of veterans like Gustavo Gomez and Miguel Almiron.
In Barranquilla, Colombia will kick things off against Venezuela, the only CONMEBOL side yet to qualify for a senior World Cup. With James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado available (though not David Ospina), Los Cafeteros fully intend on being in the qualifying mix from the start. For their part, La Vinotinto will have to do without their figurehead Solomon Rondon up front but can call on quality established players to support newcomers from the U-20 side that were world runner’s-up at Korea 2017.
Brazil get the ball rolling in Sao Paulo with the visit of Bolivia, who have managed just two draws in eight visits. With Neymar at the helm of a stable side replete with top quality alternatives, they start once again as strong candidates for an automatic qualifying spot. Bolivia, meanwhile, will hope to take encouragement from past exploits and spring a surprise.
Los Cafeteros will be hoping to capitalise on the fine form of their attacking midfielder, who has racked up three goals and three assists in five games with new club Everton. If James can replicate his Premier League form with the national team, then he could well become the leader they need to qualify directly for Qatar.
Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro will make his debut at the Venezuelan helm against compatriot Carlos Queiroz’s Colombia. Adding further spice to this Lusitanian duel in South America is the fact that Peseiro was Queiroz's technical assistant during the 2003/04 season he spent at the helm of Real Madrid.