Why World Cup qualifying in South America is so difficult

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Carlos Queiroz is a worldwide man of soccer with a formidable CV. He has coached Actual Madrid and had profitable spells as an assistant with Manchester United. He has received titles in his native Portugal, in addition to growing gifted kids who he took to victory within the Below-20 World Cup. He has taken Iran to 3 World Cups and performed effectively in Japanese membership soccer. In Africa he has emerged with credit score from spells in command of South Africa and Egypt, and he has additionally made a contribution to the expansion of the sport in the USA.

However nothing had ready him for the South American World Cup qualifiers. The following set of this fiercely aggressive competitors will get underway on Thursday. Final time spherical Queiroz — in his first South American journey — set Colombia out on the highway to Qatar 2022. It didn’t final lengthy. The opening two rounds introduced a win and a draw — a totally acceptable begin. A 3-0 house defeat to Uruguay might be dismissed as an accident alongside the route. However what got here subsequent price him his job.

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In what could be the one severe recreation within the historical past of soccer through which a coach made 4 unforced substitutions earlier than half-time, Queiroz watched in horror as his aspect capitulated 6-1 to Ecuador.

There was a brand new issue at work, one thing for which even the lengthy and different profession of Queiroz had left him unprepared: the altitude of Quito. Ecuador’s mountain fortress stands 2800 metres above sea stage. Bolivia’s La Paz is even greater — 3,600 metres — and within the rarefied mountain air there isn’t a peace for unacclimatised opponents. Enjoying at these venues requires detailed and particular planning. Queiroz had by no means needed to do it earlier than, and the duty proved past him.

The geography of South America brings challenges of its personal. Altitude is probably the most excessive instance, however there may be additionally warmth. Colombia prefer to stage their house video games within the searing afternoon warmth of Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast. This Friday, Brazil are taking the altitude specialists of BolĂ­via to the tropical northern temperatures of Belem. On the different finish of South America, Ecuador will freeze once they go to Argentina within the Buenos Aires winter.

Distances are huge and there may be little time to journey throughout them. Many of the continent’s finest gamers had been in motion in Europe over the weekend. Then comes the lengthy journey again throughout the Atlantic, with hardly any time for coaching earlier than they’re in motion on Thursday or Friday, adopted by one other journey for subsequent Tuesday’s second spherical of matches. Paraguay, for instance, will go all the best way to Venezuela, whereas Uruguay will make the prolonged journey to Ecuador. With the weather conditions and the intimidating atmospheres, there isn’t a such factor as a simple away recreation within the South American qualifiers. The Qatar marketing campaign registered 24 away wins towards 43 for the house aspect, and even that’s uncommon. Usually there are three house triumphs for each victory for the guests.

All of that point spent on an aeroplane, after all, cuts down on time that may be spent on the coaching floor. And for this marketing campaign, preparation has been particularly transient.

Usually, there’s a hole of effectively over a yr earlier than the top of 1 World Cup and the beginning of the subsequent qualifying course of — an interval to mattress in new coaches and get recent tasks underway. For this cycle, although, simply over eight months separate the top of Qatar 2022 and the beginning of the 2026 course of, and which means that nearly all of the groups go into the qualifying marketing campaign wanting alarmingly undercooked. World Cup winners Argentina are the exception, with head coach Lionel Scaloni nonetheless on the helm after 5 profitable years. Amazingly, the one different coach who has taken cost of his staff in a aggressive match is Paraguay’s Guillermo Barros Schelotto. On the different excessive are Brazil and Uruguay. Brazil’s stand-in boss Fernando Diniz might be assembly his squad for the primary time this week, as will Uruguay’s Marcelo Bielsa, who used his debut friendlies in June to take a look at fringe gamers.

The coaches might complain about their working circumstances however this presents little safety towards the demand for fast outcomes. The excellent function of the South American qualifiers — the differential that makes the competitors so particular — is that nobody goes into the marketing campaign to make up their numbers. There aren’t any Liechtensteins or San Marinos. All 10 nations consider that they’ve an actual probability of creating the reduce.

It is a consequence of the success of the marathon format, with all of the nations enjoying one another house and away. Inaugurated in 1996, for the primary time this gave the South American international locations the kind of calendar that Europe takes as a right, with common video games and assured revenue. As much as that time there have been typically gaps of years between aggressive matches. Now there was a construction enabling the groups to rent higher coaches and put money into their youth sides. Earlier than 1996, Ecuador had solely ever received 5 qualifiers. They’re now continuously seen on the World Cup and have gotten more and more harmful. Venezuela have but to make their debut, however have taken big strides, and their first World Cup is a matter of time.

The growth of the lads’s World Cup has tipped issues their method. South America used to have 4 automated slots, with the aspect ending fifth having the prospect of a playoff. That has now been elevated. The highest six will head to the event levels in the USA, Canada and Mexico in 2026, and there’s a playoff for the aspect coming seventh.

True, it’s turning into exhausting to not qualify. However come the top of the method three, and possibly 4, nations might be bitterly upset at lacking out on the occasion. And people who make it by could have fought their method by slumps and mini crises and loads of challenges, each sporting and logistical. And there may be all the time the query of altitude to remind the sceptics that the South American qualifiers stay a tall order.

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