South Amer­ica

crumbs of com­fort

World Soccer - - Contents - TIM VICK­ERY

Crumbs of com­fort are not easy to find for South Amer­ica fol­low­ing the 2018 World Cup. A fourth con­sec­u­tive Euro­pean win, with three of those tri­umphs emerg­ing from all-Euro­pean Fi­nals, and no South Amer­i­can in­ter­est be­yond the quar­ter-fi­nals. There is no doubt it was all a huge dis­ap­point­ment.

But, on the other hand, even­tual win­ners France were made to work for a nar­row group win against Peru, who un­til com­par­a­tively re­cently were the whip­ping boys on their own con­ti­nent, es­pe­cially away from home. Peru per­formed with credit in Rus­sia and gave an­other in­di­ca­tion of South Amer­ica’s strength in depth. With a young side they can hope to be back, and bet­ter, in 2022.

First, of course, they will have to qual­ify, which may not be easy. Al­ti­tude aside, Bo­livia would not seem to have a great deal to con­trib­ute to the next qual­i­fi­ca­tion campaign, while Ecuador were the early lead­ers in the race to Rus­sia, only to fall away alarm­ingly. They are cur­rently ne­go­ti­at­ing with Her­nan Dario Gomez, the Colom­bian who took them to their World Cup de­but in 2002 and who was in charge of Panama at this year’s fi­nals

Else­where, Venezuela will have dreams of mak­ing it to a first-ever World Cup, build­ing their hopes around the group of play­ers who reached the Fi­nal of last year’s Un­der-20 tour­na­ment, Chile have al­ready be­gan their re­build­ing process and Paraguay have some in­ter­est­ing at­tack­ing mid­field­ers to add to their cus­tom­ary re­silience.

How­ever, none of these sides are likely to be se­ri­ous chal­lengers to win the World Cup in 2022. But four na­tions are en­ti­tled to be­lieve that, with a break or two along the way, they might have enough to put in a chal­lenge.

One is Colom­bia, who let them­selves down in their loss to Eng­land. Their 2018 tragedy was that the com­bined play­mak­ing tal­ents of James Ro­driguez and Juan Quin­tero were only re­ally avail­able for one game – the 3-0 win over Poland. On the plus side, they would seem to have re­cu­per­ated Quin­tero af­ter his wilder­ness years, and he and Ro­driguez could hit a peak to­gether in Qatar.

This type of mid­field qual­ity is vi­tal be­cause one area in which South Amer­ica has clearly fallen be­hind the best Euro­peans is in the production of mid­field­ers ca­pa­ble of running the game from box to box.

Uruguay look best equipped to meet this chal­lenge. Al­though Ro­drigo Ben­tan­cur was not al­ways at his best in Rus­sia, he showed flashes of gen­uine qual­ity, Lu­cas Tor­reira has emerged as an all-pitch prob­lem solver and they also have Fed­erico Valverde once he has fully re­cov­ered from the in­jury prob­lems that cost him mo­men­tum ear­lier in the year. The strike pair­ing of Luis Suarez and Edin­son Ca­vani will surely be past their best in 2022, so much may de­pend on the de­vel­op­ment of Maxi Gomez as a re­place­ment. But in terms of mid­field re­sources, Uruguay should be stronger in Qatar than they were in Rus­sia.

Brazil must envy Uruguay’s strength in this area. Part of the story of their Rus­sian ex­pe­ri­ence lies in an ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to shoe­horn Phillippe Coutinho into op­er­at­ing as a mid­field all-rounder. Some mid­field hopes have dis­ap­pointed on contact with top-class Euro­pean football but per­haps Arthur, the Ini­esta-looka­like just signed by Barcelona, will be dif­fer­ent. If so, Brazil could win the sec­ond Asian World Cup – just as they did in the first in 2002.

And then there is Ar­gentina. Maybe their 2022 side will be built around the tal­ents of Gio­vani Lo Celso, a play­maker who has been learn­ing his trade in France with Paris Saint-Ger­main.

Lo Celso was one of just three mem­bers of Ar­gentina’s squad who saw no ac­tion in Rus­sia – which was some­what cu­ri­ous as he had looked par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive in their only warm-up friendly, against Haiti. He could be an im­por­tant player in Qatar, but first Ar­gentina have to get there. And as it stands, they have no coach and no clear plan.

Fifteen of the squad that went to Rus­sia are over 30 so a com­plete re­build­ing process will be needed and there is cur­rently a dearth of out­stand­ing young play­ers in many po­si­tions.

Things could get worse be­fore they get bet­ter.

One area in which South Amer­ica has clearly fallen be­hind the best Euro­peans is in the production of mid­field­ers ca­pa­ble of running the game from box to box

Hope...Gio­vani Lo Celso (left) with Lionel Messi

Fu­ture...Venezuela’s Adal­berto Pe­naranda (cen­tre)

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