For those of us who are used to the European format for World Cup qualifying, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) group offers an interesting diversion from the norm: ten clubs play each other for four automatic World Cup qualifying spots in Russia next summer. The fifth-placed finisher will go into an inter-confederation play-off against New Zealand.
With one fixture to go, there are still six teams whose qualification is still in doubt with only Brazil guaranteed a place in the World Cup so far. Uruguay are all but qualified but for Chile, Columbia, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay there is still the possibility that they can still find their way through the group and onto the plane to Russia in 2018.
RealSport looks at each of these teams and assesses their chances of eventual qualification.
On the face of it, Chile have the most difficult task going into the final fixture of CONMEBOL qualifying. Placed third in the group on 26 points and with a goal difference of +2, they are due to play Brazil away from home on October 10th (which, due to time difference, will be the 11th of October in the UK).
However, since Brazil have guaranteed their place in international football’s biggest tournament, they have taken their foot off the gas. Their last two results in the group reflect this: a 1-1 draw against Colombia followed by a 0-0 draw against a Bolivia who were already eliminated. This will give Chile hope that they will go into the game with much more to play for than the Brazilians.
Chile came back from the Confederations Cup with a runners up medal to their name. However, since winning the Copa Centenario in 2016, they have failed to live up to the expectations that many expected of them. Their high-octane pressing game is world-renowned and yet, in qualifying, they have failed to maintain their energy throughout 90 minutes.
La Roja have also struggled to offer much of an attacking threat in front of goal, relying heavily on their talismanic midfielders Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez to make inroads into the opposition box. Eduardo Vargas has been far from prolific up front over the course of the last year and coach Antonio Pizzi has failed to find any real replacement for him.
A win would guarantee them qualification whereas a draw would mean that they could be overtaken by one of Colombia and Peru, who play one another, and Argentina if they manage wins respectively. Fifth place, then, is the worst they can finish and so they are guaranteed at least a chance of qualifying whatever the outcome on 10 October.
Colombia and Peru
Next in the table are Colombia and Peru who sit next to one another and will face each other in the final fixture of the group.
Colombia are one point ahead of Peru on 26 points and have a +1 goal difference advantage over them. If Chile lose, the winner of this game will leapfrog them, leaving the loser relying on results elsewhere to qualify. If they draw, Colombia are likely to qualify but Peru will need Argentina and Paraguay to lose to have a chance.
The Colombia National Team is somewhat of an enigma. Looking at the levels of talent in their squad, you might have been forgiven for expecting them to ease through the group with relatively little trouble. However, in the event, they have made rather heavy work of it.
It isn’t that they’ve played badly, though, so much as that they’ve failed to capitalise on the chances that they’ve created. In many respects, this has been caused by a tendency to become frustrated when their attempts to create overly-elaborate goals have failed to come off, often prompting James Rodriguez to start shooting from distance.
Peru are the dark horse of the CONMEBOL group and many neutrals are keen to see them progress. Unbeaten so far in this stage of the qualifying, Peru offer the argument that the collective is more important than the individual. Although less likely to qualify than their opponents, a win would almost guarantee them a place in the World Cup: a fact which will no doubt spur them on in their home stadium.
After their appearance in the final of the last tournament, no one expected Argentina to be absent from the next World Cup. However, sitting in sixth place, outside of the qualification places, there is a real possibility that they might not make it to Russia.
Level on points and goal difference with Peru, the best case scenario for them is a draw between Peru and Colombia, and a Chile loss. This, however, seems unlikely given that both Colombia and Peru are battling for a win. The Soccer Projection Index produced by Five Thirty-Eight puts Argentina’s chances of progression at 47% – the lowest out of all the teams who still have a chance of qualifying.
The Argentina team is filled with enough quality to beat the Ecuador team who face them on the final matchday of the group. Where Jorge Sampaoli has laboured is in attempting to manage a team filled with starlets. Primary amongst his problems is the issue of how to field both Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala on the same team.
If Sampaoli can resolve this difficulty, then the Argentinians will be confident of progression. Yet time and again, La Albiceleste have consistently failed to produce the goods throughout the group stages.
Despite being in seventh place, Paraguay still have a good chance of making it through to the World Cup. Playing at home to bottom-of-the-table Venezuela, a win will almost ensure them making at least fifth place and a play-off against New Zealand.
However, a worst case scenario does exist for them: if Chile and Argentina win, and there is a winner in the Peru vs Colombia game this will be enough for them to go out of the competition. The World Cup, then, is out of their hands.
Paraguay will be nervous that they are missing a number of key players through injury. Striker Lucas Barrios picked up an injury just before the international break and he will join enganche Miguel Almiron on the bench.
Despite this, the weakness of their opponents, matched with the fact that they have nothing to play for, will make Paraguay hopeful of the possibility of advancing if results elsewhere are friendly to them.
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