Unbeaten Brazil and Argentina have booked their passage to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year.
While the two top national teams in South America cruised to the finals, the race for the other two automatic qualifiers, plus a spot in an intercontinental playoff against a team from Asia, remain up for grabs with four match days remaining in the continent’s marathon qualifying tournament.
With only a mere four points separating teams from fourth (Colombia) through ninth (Paraguay), qualifying resumes with 10 games scheduled to be played over six days and Integrated Sports Media, the leader in pay-per-view soccer matches, is again making the matches available to soccer fans in the United States.
Integrated Sports will offer matches on cable and satellite Pay Per View, and to commercial establishments across the U.S. The matches, which cost $29.95 each, also continue to be available on cable via iN Demand along with satellite providers DIRECTV and DISH.
Because of the delays and postponements, qualifying in South America will spill over into March, with the World Cup finals slated to begin in the Middle Eastern nation in late November. The tournament will run from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18.
Five-time champion Brazil and two-time titlist Argentina waltzed to berths in the Middle Eastern finals with victories on Matchday 13, with Argentina winning at Uruguay for the first time in 12 years. Those two 1-0 victories came before Brazil and Argentina played to a scoreless draw in Buenos Aires on Matchday 14.
With matters settled at the top of the 10-nation table, interest has shifted to the seven countries (last-place Venezuela has only 7 points from 14 games and has been virtually eliminated) still alive, each with 12 points still up for grabs.
Surprising Ecuador is in the pole position for one of the automatic qualification berths, sitting in third place 6 points in front of Colombia. Ecuador took all 6 points from its two matches in November (vs. Venezuela and at Chile), but faces a daunting challenge when it hosts Brazil on Jan. 27. La Tri then travel to Perú on Feb. 1
Colombia and Perú enter this two-match series of games tied on 17 points, with the Colombians holding on to a precarious lead on goal differential (-1 to -5). Los Cafeteros could put some distance between themselves, Perú and the rest of the table with a home victory over La Blanquirroja on Jan. 28 before a trip to face Argentina on Feb. 1. For Perú, which won both games in the November cycle, Matchdays 15 and 16 could go a long way to determining its fate with games at Colombia and at home to Ecuador on Feb. 1.
Chile and Uruguay are tied on 16 points, and the Chileans will be forced to face visiting Argentina without Arturo Vidal, who was sent off in the crushing home loss to Ecuador. Uruguay’s vaunted Golden Generation has been showing signs of age and is in danger of missing perhaps a final opportunity to play in the World Cup finals. La Celeste has gone five matches without a victory and has fallen to seventh place (on goal differential) but could get back in the running with victories at Paraguay (Jan. 27) and home to last-place Venezuela (Feb. 1).
Bolivia and Paraguay are facing desperate times. Incredibly, eighth-place Bolivia is only 2 points behind fourth-place Colombia, with a game against Los Cafeteros scheduled for March. In this go-round, Bolivia can pad its points total when it plays at Venezuela (Jan. 28) and then hosts Chile. Little short of 6 points will be necessary for Paraguay to remain in the hunt, and it will be a challenging task with games vs. Uruguay and at Brazil.
The Pay-Per-View schedule for Rounds 15 and 16 follows (home teams listed first; all times Eastern):
Ecuador v. Brazil, 4 p.m.
Paraguay v. Uruguay, 6 p.m.
Chile v. Argentina, 7 p.m.
Colombia v. Perú, 4 p.m.
Venezuela v. Bolivia, 5 p.m.
Bolivia v. Chile, 3 p.m.
Uruguay v. Venezuela, 6 p.m.
Argentina v. Colombia, 6:30 p.m.
Brazil v. Paraguay, 7:30 p.m.
Perú v Ecuador, 9 p.m.