Compared to the massive qualifying competitions that UEFA and AFC use to determine which countries will and will not get to send teams to the World Cup, the CONMEBOL qualifiers are downright simplistic. Featuring just 10 teams who play each other in a round robin series of home and away matches, the 2018 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifiers don't involve any complicated group stage calculations or multi-round qualification steps. Instead, each team plays 18 matches apiece, and the four or five at the top of the standings when those are done get to participate in FIFA's global football tournament.
Still, while the CONMEBOL qualifiers look simple on paper, South American football teams actually have to play more matches apiece than any UEFA countries do. As a result, CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup will begin relatively soon-October 2015, versus the UEFA start date of September 2016. So what does the schedule look like for the first matches? And which teams should be expected to rise to the top of the CONMEBOL crop? Read on for our guide to the South American World Cup qualifying proceedings.
CONMEBOL Teams and Recent QualifiersÂ
As usual, the 2018 World Cup qualifiers for CONMEBOL will feature all 10 countries in the South American Football Confederation: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The top four finishers qualify for the World Cup automatically, while the fifth-placer progresses to the Intercontinental Playoffs for one more chance at a spot in the tournament.
The 2014 World Cup actually featured six teams from
CONMEBOL, thanks to the fact that Brazil automatically qualified as hosts. As a result, the Brazilian national football team didn't have to participate in the qualifying rounds, leaving Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador (in that order) to take the top four spots.
Meanwhile, Uruguay finished fifth, but beat the AFC's Intercontinental Playoff team (Jordan) to snag a spot in the World Cup. Uruguay also qualified via the Intercontinental Playoff in 2010, after finishing fifth in the qualifiers behind Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina.
For the 2018 qualifiers, both Argentina and Brazil seem like pretty sure bets. The former soccer squad finished as the runners-up at the 2014 World Cup, is currently ranked as the top national football team on Earth by FIFA, and still has Lionel Messi for (likely) one last World Cup tournament. Brazil, meanwhile, are the only team to have played in all 20 World Cups so far, winning five of them.
Colombia are likely the next safest bet for qualification. They didn't reach the tournament in 2010, but had an impressive run in 2014, reaching the quarterfinals and establishing James Rodriguez as the breakout star of the competition. (Rodriguez won the Golden Boot award, scoring six goals and providing two assists in just five matches.) The Colombia national football team are also currently the second most highly ranked CONMEBOL squad by FIFA.
For slots four and five, we would predict Chile and Uruguay. Chile won this year's Copa America tournament, beating Argentina in the final to clinch the top soccer honor in South and Central America. They also beat Uruguay (in the round of 16), though the Uruguayan side was not at top strength: Luis Suarez is still suspended from international soccer for the biting incident at the 2014 World Cup. Suarez will miss the first four matches of CONMEBOL qualifying due to the ban as well, but could still help his country qualify-perhaps through the Intercontinental Playoffs once again.
Matchday One: The ScheduleÂ
The first four games of each CONMEBOL team's 18-match qualifying campaign will take place in 2015-the first two between October 5th and 13th, and the next two between November 9th and 17th. The draws for matchday one are listed below, though concrete dates are not yet available.
- Colombia (H) vs. Peru (A)
- Chile (H) vs. Brazil (A)
- Argentina (H) vs. Ecuador (A)
- Venezuela (H) vs. Paraguay (A)
- Bolivia (H) vs. Uruguay (A)
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