Because the South American World Cup qualifiers kick off, all eyes flip to Argentina, the reigning world champions. With Lionel Messi nonetheless main the cost, can La Albiceleste preserve their dominance?
Tim Vickery delves into the challenges and prospects of every CONMEBOL nation.
Performs at residence to Ecuador on Thursday, then away to Bolivia subsequent Tuesday
The world champions are the one crew within the subject whose coach has been in cost for an prolonged time frame. Lionel Scaloni started his extraordinary five-year reign as a stand-in and ended up taking the crew to glory in Qatar, efficiently constructing a crew round Messi. Will Messi nonetheless be round in 2026? It’s quickly to say, however he’s definitely nonetheless round now, the centrepiece of a aspect which can now endure a gradual transition, the place Nicolás Otamendi (absolutely) and Ángel Di María (probably) will probably be discarded alongside the best way.
The beginning is just not straightforward. Tuesday’s journey to the intense altitude of La Paz is a nightmare, and Ecuador’s physicality might present some issues for the house defence in Buenos Aires on Thursday. However, whereas nearly all their rivals seem like in a state of flux and frenzy, Argentina can put together to defend their title in relative tranquillity.
Performs at residence to Chile on Friday, then away to Ecuador on Tuesday
New head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s “my means or the freeway” strategy is already inflicting ripples, with the controversial absences of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez. Predictably, Bielsa has gone with a younger squad, a dynamic group of gamers with the lung energy to hold out his high-octane type of play. It’s an attention-grabbing match — Uruguay’s Below-20 crew have been a constant provider of expertise for the senior ranks, and within the likes of Federico Valverde and Darwin Núñez there’s loads of high quality uncooked materials for Bielsa to work with. However the crew will clearly be undercooked. Bielsa used his solely two video games up to now — friendlies in June — to take a look at fringe gamers. His Uruguay aspect may want a while to take form, however they’ll definitely be value watching.
Performs away to Argentina on Thursday, then at residence to Uruguay on Tuesday
Ecuador go into the marketing campaign three factors behind everybody else — a punishment handed out for suspicions concerning the paperwork of right-back Byron Castillo within the Qatar qualifiers. They’ve gone with a Spanish coach, Felix Sanchez, who was in control of Qatar within the earlier World Cup cycle. The match is clear. Sanchez shares an identical philosophy to Independiente del Valle, the extraordinary little membership which is producing so many gamers for the nationwide crew. The brand new man has loads of expertise to work with, though the crew stay depending on veteran striker Enner Valencia for targets. Sanchez seems to have bedded in a 3 centre-back formation, releasing the aspect to assault down the flanks. Fast, robust and athletic, not many sides will relish dealing with Ecuador — particularly on the altitude of Quito.
Performs away to Paraguay on Thursday, then at residence to Brazil on Tuesday
After performing with credit score in Russia 2018 and narrowly lacking out on Qatar, these are worrying occasions for Peru. The membership sport is in a nasty means — within the final 11 years no Peruvian aspect has made it out of the group part within the Copa Libertadores — and there’s a dearth of younger expertise to exchange a era which has been punching above its weight in latest occasions. They’ve turned to former nationwide crew captain Juan Reynoso to teach the aspect. An imposing centre-back in his day and a strong-minded coach, Reynoso would appear to be a sensible choice, however he has little to work with, and various accidents to his defenders will make life tougher in these opening two rounds. Peru’s conventional robust kind at residence will probably be very important to their possibilities.
Performs at residence to Venezuela on Thursday, then away to Chile on Tuesday
Colombia have been the largest disappointments within the Qatar marketing campaign. After two consecutive good World Cups, they missed out on 2022 — at one level going a scarcely plausible seven straight video games with out scoring. Now they’ve turned to Nestor Lorenzo, an assistant coach throughout the good occasions, and he has made a superb begin — two attracts and 6 wins, together with a morale boosting triumph away to Germany final outing. The ambiance of Colombian soccer is often turbulent, and there are at all times rows and controversies concerning the name ups. However Los Cafeteros can stay up for this marketing campaign with appreciable confidence. With the growth of the event, it could be actually exceptional if such a gifted group have been to overlook out on a second consecutive World Cup.
Performs at residence to Bolivia on Friday, then away to Peru on Tuesday
Whereas Brazil await the — unconfirmed — arrival of Carlo Ancelotti subsequent 12 months, Fernando Diniz takes over the crew on a short lived foundation. There are excessive hopes that this unorthodox thinker may be a great match for the nationwide crew, however he’s hampered by a scarcity of preparation time — he met his gamers for the primary time this week — and the burdens of Brazil’s crowded membership calendar, since his day job is teaching Fluminense in Rio.
There must be loads of last-minute improvisation. It had been thought that this may begin a cycle the place Vinícius Júnior could be the primary attacking weapon. However he’s injured, there are doubts about Neymar‘s health and Lucas Paquetá and Antony have each needed to be not noted, with the latter launched from worldwide obligation after the Brazil Soccer Confederation (CBF) cited home violence allegations “which should be investigated.”
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Performs away to Uruguay on Friday, then at residence to Colombia on Tuesday
Chile kick off this week with coach Eduardro Berizzo assembly his former mentor Bielsa. However Berizzo is at a transparent drawback: The place Uruguay have a conveyor belt of expertise coming by, the Chilean manufacturing line has been spluttering for years. The important thing gamers stay the veterans who got here by the 2007 Below-20 aspect and went on to win the Copa America in 2015 and 2016 — Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, and different veterans comparable to Charles Aránguiz and Erick Pulgar. Chile appeared to expire of steam some years in the past, and laborious although Berizzo is wanting, new top-class names should not rising. Berizzo has solid the web extensive, calling up 45 gamers. If Chile are to make the lower, among the children are going to should develop up rapidly.
Performs at residence to Peru on Thursday, then away to Venezuela on Tuesday
Since reaching the quarterfinals for the primary time in 2010, Paraguay have endured three very poor qualification campaigns, however have loads of religion that this time they will get it proper. Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto — one more Argentine — was in cost for the previous few rounds of the Qatar qualifiers and concludes that the expertise has given him a significantly better perception into the Paraguayan mindset. And the Premier League fireworks of Miguel Almirón and Julio Enciso give rise to a religion that scoring targets will probably be much less of an issue this time spherical, though Enciso will miss the opening two rounds with damage. However with a bit of little bit of attacking aptitude to go along with the legendary Paraguayan combating spirit, the nation will probably be very dissatisfied to overlook out for a fourth time in a row.
Performs away to Brazil on Friday, at residence to Argentina on Tuesday
Home Bolivian soccer is in absolute disaster, with this 12 months’s event annulled due to a match manipulation scandal. The nationwide crew, nevertheless, may very well be the primary beneficiary of the growth of the World Cup. It’s because Bolivia choose up so many factors of their mountain fortress, on the excessive altitude of La Paz, that there’s at all times an opportunity of constructing the lower. Coach Gustavo Costas is an attention-grabbing alternative. He has by no means been glamorous, however throughout the continent his groups have at all times been aggressive. Not seen on the World Cup since their golden era went to USA 94, Bolivia have a great opportunity of returning to the limelight when the USA, Canada and Mexico host the World Cup in 2026.
Performs away to Colombia on Thursday, then residence to Paraguay on Tuesday
The one South American crew to not have appeared at a World Cup, Venezuela are assured of constructing their debut in 2026. True, there was an identical feeling within the build-up to the Qatar qualifiers, when the era that reached the ultimate of the 2017 Below-20 World Cup appeared able to step up. However all the pieces went unsuitable final time — particularly the truth that the pandemic dominated key centre-forward Salomon Rondon out of many of the early rounds. One drawback is that Rondon may now be previous his finest, however Venezuelan soccer continues to supply attention-grabbing expertise, and outcomes below new coach Fernando Batista have been encouraging up to now. A very good begin is crucial to morale, and in the event that they choose up early factors then a World Cup debut would seem effectively inside Venezuela’s grasp.