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2026 World Cup Qualifying Gets Underway In South America

Qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States has officially started as the first fixtures have been completed in South America.

The CONMEBOL qualifying kickstarts two and a half years of intense competition across the globe as countries battle for one of 45 qualification spots as the World Cup expands to 48 teams from 32.

The South American contingent has already seen a fair share of dramatic moments and crazy storylines. So what exactly happened in the five matches that took place over the last few days?

Paraguay 0-0 Peru
Credit: Getty Images

The opening match of the 2026 World Cup qualifying ended up being a 0-0 draw between two teams with disappointing results in recent years.

Despite Paraguay dominating the match in both possession and chances, they could not find a way past 10-man Peru after Luis Advincula was sent off in the 45th minute for two bookable offences.

Paraguay was a force to be reckoned with between 1998 and 2010 but have not tasted qualification for the World Cup in 13 years and Peru missed out on Qatar thanks to a penalty shootout loss against Australia in the inter-federation Play-Offs.

With that being said, Peru is in good form in Copa America, securing fourth place in 2021, however, a dull draw does not suit any team and Paraguay will be more disappointed to leave with a point.

Columbia 1-0 Venezuela
Credit: Transfermarkt

Columbia scored the first goal of qualifying in their narrow win over Venezuela but perhaps should have taken more of their chances against the bottom team from the 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Rafael Santos Borre scored the only goal just after half-time, and despite having the likes of Liverpool’s Luis Diaz and Juan Cuadrado of Inter Milan, Columbia could not add to the scoreline with their 13 shots with seven of them being on target.

Borre’s third goal for La Tricolor ensures that it is a good start, but Venezuela will see it as a missed chance to claim a scalp at this early stage.

Columbia is in good form this year, unbeaten in six, including a 2-0 win in Germany, and will look to avenge their missed World Cup, after finishing sixth and missing the Play-Offs.

Meanwhile, Venezuela, who have never played at the World Cup, will look to River Plate and former West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United striker Salamon Rondon for something to cheer about.

Argentina 1-0 Ecuador
Credit: Hossein Zohrevand

A free-kick goal from Lionel Messi in the 78th minute sealed the three points for Argentina against Ecuador which saw the World Champions, who sit top of FIFA’s rankings, start qualification positively.

Ecuador started the match on minus three points due to fielding an illegal player during the 2022 World Cup qualification and made Argentina work for their win.

The visitors sat back and stood their ground for much of the game, but it was inevitable that Messi, recently nominated for the Ballon d’Or award, would have the final say.

Messi’s 104th goal in his 176th cap for his country meant he has scored in eight consecutive games for Argentina, adding to his 11 goals in 11 games for Inter Miami and showing critics why he is in the running for the world’s best player.

Messi was also quick to heap praise on Tottenham’s Cristian Romero after his performance, saying he is “the best defender in the world”.

For Ecuador, a decent performance will give them hope that they can claw back the lost points and possibly earn a Play-Off spot come March 2026.

It is hard to see who could stop Argentina with a star-studded lineup including Enzo Fernandez, Alexis MacAllister, Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul but time will tell if they can continue their momentum.

Uruguay 3-1 Chile
Credit: imago/AFLOSPORT

Uruguay had a fairly comfortable win in their first game against Chile. Two goals from Nicolas de la Cruz helped the two-time World Champions to the perfect start.

Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde’s goal between de le Cruz’s efforts sealed the game even though substitute Arturo Vidal’s consolation goal for Chile reduced the scoreline.

Whilst possession was near equal during the game, Uruguay’s proficiency sealed the win and will please former Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa.

The former World Cup champions failed to get out of their group at the 2022 World Cup and were eliminated on goal difference by South Korea. However, they have shown strength by not losing a game since their defeat to Portugal in the group stage.

As for Chile, their last appearance at a World Cup was in 2014, losing to Brazil on penalties in the round of 16, and it continues a barren spell in World Cup qualifying, although their form in the Copa America has been good.

The 2015 and 2016 wins, along with their fourth-place finish in 2019, will give them hope that they can qualify for the World Cup at the third attempt.

Brazil 5-1 Bolivia
Credit: Getty Images

Ultimately, it was Brazil who would make the most headlines in their game against Bolivia, thrashing their opponents and continuing their good form in qualifiers.

Two goals from Rodrygo and Neymar and a goal from Raphinha, a late replacement for Antony, provided the best start Brazil could hope for.

It could have been even better as Neymar missed a first-half penalty but it still ended up being a record-breaking night for the 31-year-old.

His 78th and 79th goals for Brazil in his 125th appearance surpasses the great Pele’s (77 goals in 82 games) men’s scoring record, and after the game, Neymar said: “I always wanted to make my own story, write my name in the history of Brazilian football and the national team. And today I did that.”

Brazil are second favourite to win the World Cup for a record sixth time behind France and ahead of England and Argentina.

Bolivia, on the other hand, have been at the World Cup just three times, their last appearance coming in 1994 and scored a consolation goal through Victor Abrego.

They are not expected to challenge the bigger names in South America but will look to improve on their ninth-place finish in 2022.

Matchday Two Fixtures

Bolivia v Argentina

Ecuador v Uruguay

Venezuela v Paraguay

Chile v Columbia

Peru v Brazil

CountryNumber of World Cup Appearances (22 Total)Best Finish
Brazil22Winner (x5)
Argentina18Winner (x3)
Uruguay14Winner (x2)
Chile9Third place (1962)
Paraguay8Quarter-Finals (2010)
Columbia6Quarter-Finals (2014)
Peru5Quarter-Finals (x2)
Ecuador4Round of 16 (2006)
Bolivia3Group Stage (x3)
How Does Qualifying Work?

All 10 countries play each other home and away, totalling 18 games to be played by each nation.

The top six teams (up from four) will automatically enter the World Cup from North America whilst the team in seventh enter the inter-confederation Play-Offs alongside five other nations from the other qualifying regions (with the exception of UEFA).

The likes of Peru, Columbia and Paraguay will have renewed hopes for reaching the big stage with six out of 10 teams guaranteed a spot.

In the 2022 qualifying, it was Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador who would succeed with Argentina going on to win the tournament.

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