The recent international break in football marked the beginning of World Cup Qualifying for South American, CONMEBOL, nations. During qualification, the ten nations that are part of CONMEBOL will play each other twice and the top four teams automatically qualify while the fifth place team competes in a play-off game against a team from another continent. Over the past week, the top teams in the region were sensational as they beautifully dismantled their opposition and showed again the flair and aggression that so beautifully comprises South American football.
Brazil’s dangerous and smooth play helped them begin their qualification in fine fashion. Brazil faced Bolivia in Sao Paulo and dominated in all senses. They possessed the ball and were belligerently attacking the Bolivians. A wonderful cross from Danilo was thumped into the net by Marquinhos and started the goal fest, soon Liverpool striker, Roberto Firminio, had two goals, both assisted by low, driven crosses in the mixer, a deflection off of a Coutinho cross and he himself heading one home concluded the scoring in 5-0 rout win.
The Brazilians then traveled to Lima to face Peru. Los Incas took a lead within the first ten minutes but Brazil equalized less than 15 minutes later through Neymar. Richarilson’s tap-in on a dangerous header from Firmino in the 64th minute put the Brazilians up. A pair of Neymar goals sealed the win also helping the Seleção top the table. Neymar’s hat trick surmounted him second on the all-time scorers list for Brazil only behind Pele.
Argentina were similarly victorious in their first two games. Los Albiceleste edged Ecuador with 1-0 victory thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty. The Argentines then traveled to La Paz, which stands at an altitude just below twelve thousand feet, to face Bolivia. Unlike Brazil, Argentina wrestled for the victory from Bolivia’s clenches. The hosts took a lead within the first half hour as forward Marcelo Moreno freely headed a lofted ball past Argentina’s Franco Armani. Aggressive and scrappy play led to Laurato Martinez leveling the score seconds before the half ended. Messi’s playmaking was evident as he created several dangerous opportunities for his teammates. After a drive into the center of the field Messi fed the ball to Parades who slapped a shot against the post. Later, the magician’s drive down the right flank and beautifully slipped ball forced the Bolivian keeper to make a strong save. To give the Argentine’s the win, Joaquin Correa hit a wonderful strike and put them second in the standings.
Over the past decade, Colombia has undoubtedly been one of the best teams on the continent. But this would be their first round of qualifiers without beloved coach Jose Pekerman. However, the Colombians did not miss a beat and danced their way to a victory over neighbors Venezuela thanks to first-half goals from the Atalanta duo of Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel. Los Cafeteros then traveled to Santiago to face Chile. La Roja are reigning champions of the Copa America but were looking to bounce back after losing to Uruguay 2-1. A nailbiter sure ensued as the Colombians took an early lead only for Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez to put Chile on top by the end of the half. The game intensified in the last ten minutes as three yellow cards and an equalizing goal from El Tigre, Radamel Falcao, concluded the game as both teams split points.
Usually lagging at the bottom of the table, Paraguay instead find themselves in a qualifying spot after the first two match days. Peru and Venezuela, usually weak sides, were their opponents which is likely the reason for their positive results after the first games. The Paraguyans played host to Peru in their first game but failed to fully defend their home as they were forced to come from behind. Los Incas opened the scoring through a volley from Andre Carrilo in the 52nd minute not long after Paraguay’s Angel Romero scored after a well timed run and tactful touch. Again, Carrilo and Romero traded goals in the latter stages of the game which ended in a stalemate.
The Paraguyans then traveled to Venezuela. This was a game of almost for both teams as they both looked very threatening. Paraguay’s Gimenez hit a wondrous strike off the woodwork and soon the prolific Romero, who had already notched two goals the game prior, forced Venezuela’s Ariñez to make an acrobatic save. Venezuela also challenged their opponents as a whirling free kick from Rómulo Otero hit the crossbar and a disallowed goal was parried in by the arm of Herrera. After both teams exchanged attacks Paraguay finally hit the back of the net in the 85th minute to secure three points.
It was truly an exciting start to World Cup qualifying in South America and one to follow as Qatar 2022 nears. Some of the usual contenders are yet to impress and others are sitting comfortably near the top.