Why Brazil look shaky for 2026 World Cup qualifying

Onside/Offside is again! Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the most recent from the soccer world, together with standout performances, video games you may need missed and what to regulate within the coming days. This week, LME previews the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers as world champions Argentina look favorites whereas a Brazil facet in transition face points to return to their formal glory.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)


Let the insanity start: CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers

All eyes on South America. For the primary time in additional than 20 years, the boys’s World Cup qualifying marketing campaign begins with a South American champion as Argentina kick off their title protection on Thursday in Buenos Aires in opposition to Ecuador. Two different video games happen that day as Peru travels to Paraguay and Colombia hosts Venezuela earlier than Friday sees Uruguay vs. Chile and Brazil welcoming Bolívia.

As a Peruvian, my bias is robust, however as a result of historic and cultural relationships between the nations, the star energy, crowd environment and geographical circumstances, these are essentially the most entertaining and difficult matches in all of worldwide soccer. South America suffers and feels the uncooked components of soccer like no different. In the phrases of the late Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano, soccer is a metaphor for battle and on this a part of the world, it could actually flip into the actual factor. Other components of the globe take pleasure in and savor the gorgeous sport. South Americans stay it, for higher or worse.

As these nations put together for 2026 World Cup qualification — one the place six direct spots (and one inter-confederation play-off slot) are up for grabs resulting from its enlargement to 48 groups — I start this week’s column to have a good time the whole lot that comes with CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualifiers, from the emotional storylines to intense matchups and pumped up followers.

Argentina favorites as soon as once more

Lionel Scaloni’s World Cup profitable squad — led by an in-form, content material Lionel Messi — enter this window because the undoubted kings of the area. With three stars above their badge, La Albiceleste come to this marketing campaign with all of the expertise and bravado essential to make it to the World Cup in 2026. They have not misplaced a qualifying sport since 2017 and that was earlier than Scaloni’s arrival.

“The start is always complicated,” Scaloni stated on the federation’s web site. “The first round always has its shades. I hope our players arrive in shape and are able to enjoy the match with our people. And we have to compete, that’s what we like to do.”

Scaloni’s message is easy: Qatar’s World Cup win and all of the celebrations that got here with it since that joyous evening in December is now a reminiscence. It’s time to focus and do it over again.

The squad stays robust and maybe extra dynamic as Manchester City’s Julián Álvarez continues to raise his sport, whereas others comparable to Chelsea’s Enzo Fernandez and Liverpool’s Alexis Mac Allister will probably be much more influential. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez and his defenders stay the crew’s bedrock. it is also nice information for MLS who not solely declare Messi but additionally two different members of the nationwide crew together with Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada and FC Dallas’ Alan Velasco.

Argentina would possibly undergo some points of their marketing campaign, however I do not count on them to occur till in a while in qualifiers. In the tip, because of an added spot in CONMEBOL for 2026, I see Argentina going by with relative ease, and favorites to win the area — one thing they did not do for Qatar 2022.

Marcelo Bielsa: El Loco returns as Uruguay flip a brand new web page

Edinson Cavani? Nope. Luis Suárez? Forget it. The oldest participant on this Uruguayan squad is the truth is 30-year-old Sergio Rochet. So what does that inform us? Welcome to Bielsa’s Uruguay the place age, expertise and fame is nearly as good as your present productiveness and dedication to the trigger. This is a younger and keen Uruguay and in true Bielsa trend, I count on fast-paced, unstable, usually rigorous and eternally devoted soccer.

I feel El Loco is at his greatest in worldwide competitors and Uruguay’s Garra Charrua (tenacity and bravado on the pitch) ought to match him like a glove. The query going through Uruguay will probably be about creating extra full matches. In the run as much as Qatar, they made a multitude of it and their legendary supervisor Oscar Tabarez needed to say goodbye in November 2021 after 15 years on the job. At that point, they’d misplaced 4 straight matches, conceded 11 and solely scored one objective. In the tip, they made it by as Diego Alonso introduced some stability however on the World Cup they didn’t get out of their group.

Enter Bielsa, who solely chooses tasks based mostly on the group, the tradition and the way soccer exists inside them. Uruguay, with a inhabitants of simply 3.4 million, is small however proud, majestically rugged and lives beneath the ethos of onerous work. Bielsa can carry the perfect out of this younger squad, together with Federico Valverde, Darwin Nuñez and Manuel Ugarte, gamers who had been born to be taught beneath somebody like Bielsa.

I’ve excessive hopes for Uruguay on this marketing campaign. And if they do not do nicely, they’re going to no less than illustrate the whole lot you are meant to like concerning the sport.


What to make of Brazil?

Brazil, the five-time World Cup champions, won’t ever be in need of expertise and their probabilities of success are all the time alive and nicely. In reality, my first article for ESPN was on the Seleção and the way I noticed them as 2022 champions. In the tip, it wasn’t to be, however in the case of South American domination, it is tough to guess in opposition to them. Under former coach Tite, they gained the earlier CONMEBOL group with out shedding a single sport. In reality, they solely drew thrice all through the complete marketing campaign. The relaxation had been victories.

But now occasions are barely totally different. Fernando Diniz, who additionally coaches Fluminense, is the crew’s interim coach till subsequent yr when the federation hopes to carry Carlo Ancelotti to care for Copa America duties and past. As my colleague Tim Vickery notes, Diniz is the final word hipster supervisor. Convention will not be actually his fashion.

But this season, he’s regimenting his methods and adapting to a extra structured splendid. In flip, Fluminense are within the semifinals of Copa Libertadores, the coveted event that may very well be Diniz’s first main piece of silverware as head coach.

For the nationwide crew, this World Cup qualifying schedule begins with relative ease as Brazil hosts Bolívia after which takes a visit to Peru. But my solely fear about Brazil is how the journey unfolds as they proceed to play matches with this inexperienced supervisor on the worldwide stage. This is a transitional Brazil, one the place there may be a lot change all through the roster. The defensive unit has modified. Only Marquinhos and Danilo stay from the beginning again 4 that began in opposition to Croatia within the World Cup quarterfinal loss. At 31, Neymar Jr. now performs within the Saudi Pro League, now not a star determine in Europe. Lucas Paquetá, an essential artistic star for Brazil, was not known as up resulting from a FIFA and English FA investigation into potential betting rule breaches. Vinicius Jr. is at the moment injured. Casemiro will not be getting any youthful.

So as you may see, this isn’t an impenetrable Brazilian facet. But they’re extremely gifted and once you examine this facet to another in South America apart from Argentina, it is onerous to suppose they’re going to do the unthinkable, one thing that is by no means occurred earlier than, and fail to qualify for a World Cup. It’s as much as Diniz to allow them to categorical themselves.

But will they win the desk once more? I doubt it.



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Talented Ecuador start three steps again

Welcome to South America, Félix Sánchez Bas. The Spanish supervisor left the Qatari nationwide crew and signed on as Ecuador’s supervisor in March after Gustavo Alfaro resigned resulting from contract and philosophical disagreements. First order of enterprise for Sanchez? Play Argentina. Oh, and also you’re already within the minus.

Due to the drama that got here with right-back Byron Castillo’s falsified start paperwork, FIFA punished Ecuador with a penalty payment in addition to deducting three factors at first of their marketing campaign. So if Ecuador wins in opposition to Argentina, it can solely come again to zero.

Ecuador stays gifted — with the likes of Moisés Caicedo, Gonzalo Plata and Pervis Estpuiñan — in addition to Enner Valencia, who retains delivering in Copa Libertadores together with his Brazilian membership Inter of Porto Alegre. Also, be careful for 16-year-old Kendry Páez — one other wonderkid from Independiente del Valle (Caicedo’s former membership) who will be a part of Chelsea in the summertime of 2025 when he turns 18.

But I fear that this job is likely to be an excessive amount of for Sanchez. The cause why Alfaro did such an ideal job with Ecuador was as a result of his managerial fashion complemented the expertise he had at his disposal. Not the opposite manner round. When you instill a deep philosophy with Ecuador, it has to shine a light-weight on the gamers versus the gamers adapting to a system that will not go well with them. We’ll have to attend and see how this one works out. Luckily for Ecuador, they’re too good to not make it within the prime six. Their solely enemies are themselves.

Final phrase

After failing to make Qatar’s World Cup, coupled with the impressed journey of the ladies’s crew this summer season, I feel Colombia arrives at these qualifiers with a renewed sense of self and some extent to show. I see a renaissance for Los Cafeteros as they look to make 2026 with an exclamation level.

The last paragraph goes to Peru. My lovely nation. They are within the backside three of least worthwhile groups within the continent and the roster clearly exhibits it, although they nonetheless have the likes of Paolo Guerrero, André Carrillo and Yoshimar Yotún. Beloved Tacu Tacu Rigatoni king Gianluca Lapadula is injured so Peru want all the assistance they will get, and it will likely be robust in opposition to a dynamic Paraguay and Brazil within the second sport.

There is promising youth, nevertheless. Watch out for Piero Quispe, who will play in Europe sooner or later. I’m positive of it. But all in all, I hope Peru present some fireplace beneath coach Juan Reynoso. Peruvians will always remember how former head coach Ricardo Gareca led them to the 2018 World Cup. But these days are gone. It’s time to look ahead.

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