A World Cup without Messi? South American qualifying gets intense

The last time Argentina missed a World Cup came in 1970 when it was eliminated with 2-2 tie against Peru at La Bombonera, the Boca Juniors stadium that plays host to Thursday’s crucial Argentina-Peru qualifier for the 2018 World Cup.

Peru, South America’s big underachiever, hasn’t qualified since the 1982 World Cup, the third and final World Cup appearance by the brilliant Nene Cubillas.

But Peru, which finished third at the 2015 Copa America, finds itself in fourth place of the 10-team South American qualifying standings. Argentina is in fifth place.

The first four teams qualify automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-place finisher enters a playoff against New Zealand.

With two games left, Brazil is the only team already qualified. Second-place Uruguay and third-place Colombia are well placed, Peru is the surprise contender -- while not only Argentina but also Chile is behind the eight ball.

Chile won the 2015 Copa America, the 2016 Copa America Centenario – both times beating Argentina in the final on PKs – and was 2017 Confederations Cup runner-up. The Chileans are in sixth place.

It’s not surprising that qualifying from South America is so difficult.

South America had six teams at the 2014 World Cup -- because Brazil hosted -- and all but Ecuador reached the second round. Europe sent 13 teams and six reached the second round.

At the 2010 World Cup, four of the five South American teams reached the second round and while six of the 13 European teams did.

By proportion, South America is the most successful confederation in World Cup play. Its teams have also won nine of the 20 World Cups.

In Europe, 54 teams are divided and seeded into nine groups, with 13 spots up four grab, so traditional powers rarely face a significant challenge. The Netherlands being an exception, but the Dutch are on the decline, having failed to qualify for Euro 2016.

Chile -- vs. Ecuador on Thursday and at Brazil on Tuesday -- looks to be greater danger than Argentina. But Argentina has won only two of its last nine qualifiers. After facing Peru, it meets Ecuador at altitude in Quito.

“We absolutely have to win to keep things in our hands,” Argentina’s general manager Jorge Burruchaga said of the clash with Peru. “It’s an absolute must.”

Brazil (1st place, 37 points) booked its World Cup ticket last March with a 3-0 win over Paraguay.

Uruguay (2nd, 27 pts) will clinch with a win over either Venezuela or Bolivia, both of which are already eliminated.

Colombia (3rd, 26 pts) could clinch with a win over Paraguay if Chile fails to beat Ecuador or Peru ties Argentina. It finishes against Peru.

Peru (4th, 24 pts) will finish in the top four if it wins its final two games, but it faces Argentina and Colombia.

Argentina (5th, 24 pts) qualifies directly if it beats both Peru and Ecuador.

Chile (6th, 23 pts) will clinch the playoff spot with wins over Ecuador and Brazil. One win could be enough for a playoff spot.

Paraguay (7th, 21 pts) needs wins against Colombia and Venezuela and favorable results in other games for a shot at the playoff spot. A loss to Colombia will eliminate Paraguay.

Ecuador (8th, 20 pts) needs wins over Chile and Argentina, and lots of luck with other results to finish fifth.

Bolivia (9th, 13 pts) and Venezuela (10th, 8 pts) are out of contention.

2 comments about "A World Cup without Messi? South American qualifying gets intense".
  1. beautiful game, October 3, 2017 at 8:16 p.m.

    Unfortunate for Messi that most of his teammates cannot make things happen.

  2. ROBERT BOND, October 4, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

    but...but....but....fifa says they top 5 in the world!!!  Chile got old for their style......

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