Matchday five in South American qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has some mouth-watering fixtures lined up for us. Lionel Messi takes on Luis Suárez at La Bombonera, and a flying Venezula host the young superstars of Ecuador, but let’s start in Colombia where James Rodríguez and Luis Díaz will look to outscore Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
Colombia V Brazil
Brazil, facing a heat-wave at home this week, will find no respite when they travel to the 80% humidity of baking hot Barranquilla on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Colombia and Argentina are the only unbeaten teams left after four qualifying games, but despite Brazil’s defeat in Uruguay and shock home draw to Venezuela last month, they still sit in third place, just one point ahead of their hosts this Thursday.
Interim Brazil boss Fernando Diniz has just led his club Fluminense to the Copa Libertadores title. Two of his star players at club level, Nino and André, are in the national squad, with André likely to start this game. Dynamic winger John Arias of Colombia was also a key man for Fluminense as they conquered the continent.
There is also space for Endrick and Raphael Veiga of Palmeiras in the Brazil squad. Endrick has become the youngest man called up to the Brazil squad since the legendary Ronaldo Nazário and Veiga has been one of the top players in Série A this season. In the absence of injured Gabriel Jesus and Neymar there is also a spot for Brighton starlet João Pedro in the squad.
This week Luis Díaz of Liverpool F.C had an emotional reunion with his father, who was recently released from being kidnapped, as he returned home for international duty. Despite this horrible family trauma Díaz has remained in fine form at club level and will hope to lead Colombia to a famous victory against Brazil with his family watching from the stands.
This fixture has ended in a draw on the last three occasions and has lacked the sort of flair you would expect. At this early stage of qualifying that would be a good result for both teams. Colombia would remain unbeaten after a tough test and Brazil would steady the ship after a rocky October outing.
Venezuela V Ecuador
Venezuela have been the surprise package of this campaign so far. Key man Salomón Rondón, at times, has looked lost with his new club River Plate, but he has been flying for Venezuela. Last time out against Chile Yeferson Soteldo was also in fabulous form for Venezuela. The number 10 could cause problems against Ecuador and their attacking full-backs. He is a tricky winger with bags of pace.
Ecuador had some bad news this week. Their three point deduction for this campaign has been upheld after the decision was confirmed in Switzerland. Their appeal has finally been rejected after they played an ineligible player last campaign. Meanwhile talisman and top striker Enner Valencia has been ruled out of this international break through injury.
Despite Venezuela hitting form and Ecuador hitting a few bumps of bad luck, the visitors will be confident they can take something from the game. They are still one of the most talented sides in South America and they won away from home in impressive fashion last time out. In the last campaign both of these teams took 3 points at home in this fixture.
Chile V Paraguay
Chile and Paraguay are both in a stage of great uncertainty at the moment. They sit in eighth and seventh place in the table respectively. Hosts Chile have lost their mojo in this post ‘golden era’ period they find themselves in, and Paraguay still haven’t found theirs.
Both sides have four points from this campaign but have only managed to win against sides in the bottom two. If they want to qualify automatically for the World Cup then they need to take more games like this by the scruff of the neck. If not, the top six will leave them behind.
Miguel Almirón of Newcastle was the key man for Paraguay last time out when they defeated Bolivia at home. They looked electric, but perhaps that was down to the quality of the opposition. Chile were smashed 3-0 on the road by Venezuela in their last game despite the presence of Alexis Sánchez.
This would be a great time for their superstar to notch his first of the campaign. He scored against Paraguay in a fiery 3-2 friendly victory back in March of this year.
Bolivia V Peru
At the moment this fixture looks like the fight for the wooden spoon. Peru sit in ninth place thanks to a draw in their opening fixture but they have failed to score in all four games so far.
Peru have had difficult fixtures with Brazil and Argentina coming to town, but they will not replicate their last campaign, when they reached a World Cup play-off against Australia, unless they can sort out their dire attacking form.
One of their top players is Luis Advíncula. He scored for Boca Juniors in their recent Copa Libertadores Final defeat and managed four goals from just 0.34XG during the competition. However as a right wing-back he is hardly going to fire Peru through this campaign without any support.
Bolivia aren’t usually challengers for qualifying, but at very least they pick up results at home by using the extreme altitude to their advantage. This has not been the case so far, as they are rock bottom of the table with four defeats from four. Bolivia can only hope that the Peru team find it hard to breathe in La Paz this Thursday.
Argentina V Uruguay
Last but not least is the second giant match-up of the week. World Cup holders and three-time Champions Argentina host neighbours and two-time World Cup Champions Uruguay.
One of football’s oldest and most traditional rivalries will light up the skies of Buenos Aires this Thursday, coming live from the famous La Bombonera stadium near the Río de la plata; the river that separates both nations.
Lionel Messi will captain the home side against his old friend Luis Suárez. The pair wreaked havoc together at F.C Barcelona and might yet be teammates again at inter Miami. For the moment Suárez is tearing up the Brazilian Serie A. His recent 20 minute hat-trick against league leaders Botafogo has put his Grêmio side right in the title race despite the fact they weren’t even in the division last year.
Suárez’s inspired form has also seen him recalled to the national team. It had seemed like new coach Marcelo Bielsa had shown him the cold shoulder by leaving Suárez out of both his September and October qualifying squads without any notice, but the striker and Uruguay fan favourite is back.
Despite his recent absence, Suárez has been mentoring Darwin Núñez, Uruguay’s next big thing. The current Liverpool forward splits opinion, as for every screamer he scores he misses an easy chance, but he is an absolute handful for defenders whether he scores or not. Last time out against Brazil he managed to do both in an historical win.
Giorgian de Arrascaeta scored a cracking goal for Uruguay in at the World Cup last year and also made his mark on last weekend’s Rio de Janerio derby. He put Fluminense and Brazil centre-back Nino on his backside before scoring a great goal for Flamengo. Argentina are yet to concede a goal this campaign but they will do well to keep up that record on Thursday as Uruguay have a lot of players capable of hurting them.
Argentina’s structure and stability has been key to their success. Their team spirit seems unbreakable and with Lionel Messi on the pitch the attacking side of things usually takes care of itself. A man who once man-marked Messi very effectively is Mallorca full-back Pablo Maffeo, the Spanish-born player is a new call up to Lionel Scaloni’s squad.
Let’s hope these two teams packed with talent go blow for blow instead of cancelling each other out. They are both on course to qualify for the tournament, even at this early stage. They shouldn’t fear a defeat in this fixture.
Messi will try and sprinkle his magic no doubt and Bielsa isn’t a fan of boring football anyway. It will be very interesting to see if he uses Núñez to tire out the Argentina defence before unleashing the inexplicable quality of Luis Suárez on La Bombonera. You might want to tune into this one!