South American qualifiers for Qatar 2022 began last week
Some famous names fired their teams to success
Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao all starred
Every FIFA World Cup™ qualifying competition throws up new names, reveals the players who represent the future of their respective national teams, and shows if the young guns starring at club level can also excel on the international stage. In the spotlight as the Qatar 2022 preliminaries got under way were the likes of Lautaro Martinez, Rodrygo, Richarlison, Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Bentancur and Gonzalo Plata.
With the exception of Rodrygo, who did not feature in Brazil’s second match of the week, the members of this exciting new wave all played both their countries’ games, with Richarlison, Plata and Martinez all finding the back of the net.
Nevertheless, it was South America’s old guard who made the headlines on the opening two days of the CONMEBOL qualifiers. With 257 caps between them, Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Thiago Silva all turned it on for Brazil, while Luis Suarez scored three for Uruguay, despite the absence of strike partner Edinson Cavani.
Lionel Messi made light of his 33 years to shine once more for Argentina as he took his tally of caps to 140, and Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez were equally impressive for Chile. Not to be outdone, the experienced Colombian trio of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Luis Muriel helped Los Cafeteros pick up four points out of a possible six.
Radamel Falcao’s last goal for Colombia came in June 2019, after which he went goalless at the Copa America. Team-mate James Rodriguez fared little better with Real Madrid in a frustrating 2019/20 season in which he made just 14 appearances in all competitions. The Cafetero talismen were back in business in their side’s double-header against Venezuela and Chile, however. Falcao it was who secured a vital point away to the Chileans with a stoppage-time equaliser, while James, who is enjoying a new lease of life at Everton, set the midfield tempo in both games.
The pride of a champion
In his 115 appearances with La Celeste so far, Luis Suarez has suffered just one defeat by a four-goal margin, against Brazil on 6 June 2009. Ecuador nearly made it two on Tuesday, leading the Uruguayans 4-0 with just six minutes remaining. Suarez salvaged a little pride, however, converting two late penalties to make the scoreline a little more respectable and improve his side’s goal difference, which could prove vital when the qualifiers come to an end.
Alexis Sanchez struck his 45th goal for Chile against Colombia on Tuesday, cementing his position as La Roja’s all-time leading scorer, well ahead of team-mate Eduardo Vargas and the legendary duo of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano. Sanchez showed his poaching instincts in giving his side the lead against Los Cafeteros. Arriving late at the far post, he latched on to a loose ball, flicked it over the advancing goalkeeper and slid it into the back of an empty net.
"This is a big win at altitude, where victories are always harder to come by. We’ve still got a lot to do. The qualifiers have only just started and we’re delighted to come away with these two wins."
Messi was a relieved man after Argentina edged a tight and often fractious match in Bolivia. Having scored his side’s winner against Ecuador on Matchday 1, the Barcelona man failed to find the back of the net in La Paz. It was the first time in seven World Cup qualifying matches dating back to 16 November that Argentina had managed to win without a goal from their captain.