Thursday, November 17

World Cup qualification in South America | Sports News

The figures don't just show it, they shout it. World Cup qualification in South America is more competitive than anywhere else on the planet. True, Brazil is not in the field this time, qualifying automatically as 2014 host. And the continent has retained all of its slots -- the top four go straight through to the World Cup, with the side finishing fifth playing off against opponents from Asia. But even with so many places available, for South America's sides the short trip to Brazil will only come at the end of a long and bumpy road, full of pitfalls, especially away from home.
The high profile victims this past Tuesday were Argentina, Lionel Messi and all, who slumped to a 1-0 defeat visiting Venezuela in Puerto La Cruz.
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It was a result that made headlines all over the world. After all, this was history being made. Venezuela had never previously beaten Argentina.

But no one acquainted with the contemporary reality of the South American game should have been particularly surprised. Like Ecuador a few years ago, Venezuela's star has been rising with astonishing speed -- in itself a tribute to the dramatic rise in standards since South America adopted the current marathon format of qualifiers in 1996. Where previously there had been huge gaps between competitive games, suddenly the South Americans had the kind of calendar that European national teams take for granted, with regular qualifying matches, guaranteed income, the chance to keep a team together and to invest in youth development. The less traditional nations have not looked back.