CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying is perhaps the most exciting path four or five travel to get to the World Cup. Argentina and Brazil certainly expect to qualify out of the 10-team round-robin phase. Still, there are no easy games in South America when the World Cup is on the line.
The passion, drama and flair in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying is seldom seen in the other federations. Some of that can be attributed to the format of qualification, which differs from that of Europe.
CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying format
Due to the relative small size of South America, the tournament involves every country. The only exceptions are the small nations on the northern coast: Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. Those three nations compete in CONCACAF.
Therefore, the round-robin tournament involves 10 teams that play a home and away match against the other nine opponents.
Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile play a total of 18 games each.
These games occur over a two-year stretch.
Traditionally, that time span lasts from the October two years before the World Cup, and ends the October before the World Cup.
However, in the case of 2022 and the World Cup scheduled for November and December, the tournament concludes in the March before the World Cup.
READ MORE: Where to watch CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying on U.S. TV.
In terms of play, the rules align significantly with other federations. Three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero points for a loss. The key difference comes from rankings and seeding.
There are four automatic bids up for grabs in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. Ergo, the top four teams in the round-robin earn these spots. Yet, for the team that finishes fifth, there is an intercontinental play-off for a chance to reach the World Cup.
The fifth-placed team plays another country from a different federation in a two-leg playoff for a World Cup spot.
While other federations change their qualifying structure, the federation began using CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying ahead of the 1998 World Cup.
No one argues with the results and the storylines that develop each season during qualifying.
European soccer is intense. But, it looks tame compared to the scenes that unfold seemingly each matchday during CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying.
For one, there are a number of rivalries between these countries in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. Everyone looks to Argentina and Brazil, the two most dominant South American sides on the world stage. Still, rivalries between Brazil and Uruguay, Chile and Peru and Colombia and Venezuela provide action every matchday.
The beauty of all these rivalries means that there is a certain level of parity in South American qualifiers. For example, Peru qualified for the 2018 World Cup via a playoff victory over New Zealand. The win signaled the Peruvians’ first World Cup venture since 1982 in Spain. A raucous Estadio Nacional saw the history unfold in Peru’s capital city, Lima.
Also for the 2018 World Cup, Lionel Messi’s Argentina almost missed qualification. Fortunately for La Albiceleste, Lionel Messi’s hat trick in the final game against Ecuador sealed a trip to Russia.
Prior to that, in 2010, four teams finished within two points of each other vying for the intercontinental playoff spot.
Every game appears to be a sell-out in the stadium. Consequently, home-field plays a massive role throughout the tournament. The differing elevations throughout South American stadiums compounds this.
There is no easy place to play in South America, making CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying perhaps the most grueling route to the World Cup.
CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying
All times Eastern United States timezone
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