South American World Cup qualifying: Can anyone catch Argentina?

As 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 keep their dominance?

Tim Vickery delves into the challenges and prospects of every CONMEBOL nation.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & extra (U.S.)
– Visit ESPN’s South American WCQ homepage

Plays at residence to Ecuador on Thursday, then away to Bolivia subsequent Tuesday

The world champions are the one workforce within the discipline whose coach has been in cost for an prolonged time period. Lionel Scaloni started his extraordinary five-year reign as a stand-in and ended up taking the workforce to glory in Qatar, efficiently constructing a workforce round Messi. Will Messi nonetheless be round in 2026? It is quickly to say, however he’s actually nonetheless round now, the centrepiece of a aspect which is able to now bear a gradual transition, the place Nicolás Otamendi (certainly) and Ángel Di María (presumably) shall be discarded alongside the way in which.

The begin shouldn’t be simple. Tuesday’s journey to the acute altitude of La Paz is a nightmare, and Ecuador’s physicality may present some issues for the house defence in Buenos Aires on Thursday. But, whereas nearly all their rivals look like in a state of flux and frenzy, Argentina can put together to defend their title in relative tranquillity.

Plays at residence to Chile on Friday, then away to Ecuador on Tuesday

New head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s “my way or the highway” method 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 model of play. It is an fascinating match — Uruguay’s Under-20 workforce 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. But the workforce 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 may actually be price watching.

Plays 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 in regards to the paperwork of right-back Byron Castillo within the Qatar qualifiers. They have gone with a Spanish coach, Felix Sanchez, who was in command of Qatar within the earlier World Cup cycle. The match is clear. Sanchez shares an analogous philosophy to Independiente del Valle, the extraordinary little membership which is producing so many gamers for the nationwide workforce. The new man has loads of expertise to work with, though the workforce stay depending on veteran striker Enner Valencia for objectives. Sanchez seems to have bedded in a 3 centre-back formation, releasing the aspect to assault down the flanks. Quick, sturdy and athletic, not many sides will relish dealing with Ecuador — particularly on the altitude of Quito.

Plays 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 recreation is in a foul approach — 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 interchange a era which has been punching above its weight in latest occasions. They have turned to former nationwide workforce captain Juan Reynoso to educate 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 a lot of accidents to his defenders will make life more durable in these opening two rounds. Peru’s conventional sturdy type at residence shall be very important to their possibilities.

Plays 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 day trip. The ambiance of Colombian soccer is often turbulent, and there are at all times rows and controversies in regards to the name ups. But Los Cafeteros can look ahead to this marketing campaign with appreciable confidence. With the growth of the match, it will be really exceptional if such a gifted group have been to overlook out on a second consecutive World Cup.

Plays at residence to Bolivia on Friday, then away to Peru on Tuesday

While Brazil await the — unconfirmed — arrival of Carlo Ancelotti subsequent yr, Fernando Diniz takes over the workforce on a brief foundation. There are excessive hopes that this unorthodox thinker is likely to be a great match for the nationwide workforce, 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 might begin a cycle the place Vinícius Júnior could be the primary attacking weapon. But 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 Football Confederation (CBF) cited home violence allegations “which need to be investigated.”



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Plays 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. But Berizzo is at a transparent drawback: Where Uruguay have a conveyor belt of expertise coming by way of, the Chilean manufacturing line has been spluttering for years. The key gamers stay the veterans who got here by way of the 2007 Under-20 aspect and went on to win the Copa America in 2015 and 2016 — Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, and different veterans reminiscent of Charles Aránguiz and Erick Pulgar. Chile appeared to expire of steam some years in the past, and onerous although Berizzo is wanting, new top-class names are usually not rising. Berizzo has forged the online large, calling up 45 gamers. If Chile are to make the lower, among the kids are going to must develop up shortly.

Plays 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’re going to get it proper. Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto — yet one more Argentine — was in cost for the previous couple of 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 objectives shall be much less of an issue this time spherical, though Enciso will miss the opening two rounds with harm. But with a bit of little bit of attacking aptitude to go along with the legendary Paraguayan combating spirit, the nation shall be very dissatisfied to overlook out for a fourth time in a row.

Plays away to Brazil on Friday, at residence to Argentina on Tuesday

Domestic Bolivian soccer is in absolute disaster, with this yr’s match annulled due to a match manipulation scandal. The nationwide workforce, nevertheless, may very well be the primary beneficiary of the growth of the World Cup. This is as a result of Bolivia decide up so many factors of their mountain fortress, on the excessive altitude of La Paz, that there’s at all times an opportunity of creating the lower. Coach Gustavo Costas is an fascinating selection. 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 superb opportunity of returning to the limelight when the United States, Canada and Mexico host the World Cup in 2026.

Plays away to Colombia on Thursday, then residence to Paraguay on Tuesday

The solely South American workforce to not have appeared at a World Cup, Venezuela are assured of creating their debut in 2026. True, there was an analogous feeling within the build-up to the Qatar qualifiers, when the era that reached the ultimate of the 2017 Under-20 World Cup appeared able to step up. But every thing went fallacious final time — particularly the truth that the pandemic dominated key centre-forward Salomon Rondon out of a lot of the early rounds. One drawback is that Rondon may now be previous his finest, however Venezuelan soccer continues to supply fascinating expertise, and outcomes underneath new coach Fernando Batista have been encouraging up to now. An excellent begin is important to morale, and in the event that they decide up early factors then a World Cup debut would seem nicely inside Venezuela’s grasp.

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