Colombia continued their wretched goalscoring run on Friday as their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup took another blow.

Reinaldo Rueda's side were stunned by Peru in Barranquilla as an 85th-minute goal from Edison Flores secured a 1-0 win for the visitors.

Colombia had 30 shots to Peru's four, with 2.35 expected goals to their opponents' 0.36, and had more than five times as many touches in the opposition box. Somehow, they failed to make their dominance count.

The result means Colombia have now gone six games in a row without scoring, with Paraguay also enduring the same barren run. It is the second-longest run of matches without a goal in the history of South American World Cup qualifying.

It also leaves them in sixth place in the standings after 15 games, with Uruguay two points ahead and Peru three above them. Only the top four – presently Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Peru – will automatically qualify for the finals in Qatar.

Colombia, whose only goals since September 10 last year came in a 2-1 friendly win over Honduras this month, will face Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela in their final qualifying matches.

Rodrigo De Paul claims Argentina were subjected to some rough off-field treatment from hosts Chile before their World Cup qualifier.

The midfielder said the Albiceleste were prevented from using the bathroom on arrival, had no air conditioning or water and were made to suffer the sound of sirens during their stay in Calama. 

It did not appear to derail the visitors, already safely through to Qatar 2022, as they secured a 2-1 win despite the COVID-enforced absences of Lionel Messi and coach Lionel Scaloni.

"They didn't even let us go to the bathroom when we got off the plane," De Paul told reporters. "They cut off our air conditioners, we had no water and they made sirens sound throughout the stay.

"I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but, as an Argentine, every team that comes to my country, we have to make them feel as comfortable as possible and we have to win on the playing field where it belongs."

Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez netted first-half goals around Ben Brereton-Diaz's looping header as Argentina extended their unbeaten run to 27 games.

The victory improves second-placed Argentina's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign to 32 points from 14 games, while Chile are battling to reach Qatar 2022.

After a solid if unspectacular showing, assistant coach Walter Samuel was pleased to see how well the team coped despite being without talisman Messi.

"Sure there are things to improve, but the team showed character in a difficult environment," he said.

"Messi is the leader of this team, but we were able to do very well without him. We lacked other guys because of Covid that we wanted to be there, but the team made a great effort and I want to thank them for that.

"The character of the boys is moving. All the players start from scratch and want to earn a place in the World Cup. There is healthy competition here."

Brazil head coach Tite has criticized the decision to appoint a Colombian referee for Thursday's chaotic 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Ecuador.

Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan handed out four red cards throughout the game, including two to Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson which were both rescinded by the VAR, along with two overturned penalty awards for Ecuador.

Trailing 1-0 to Casemiro's first-half strike, Ecuador had a 55th-minute penalty awarded by Roldan overturned when it was determined Pervis Estupinan had dived in the box as opposed to being fouled by Raphinha.

In stoppage-time, the hosts again thought they had a penalty which could have led to the winner after a foul from Alisson but the award was overturned by the VAR, offering the Liverpool goalkeeper and Brazil a late reprieve.

Tite was critical of Roldan's "impulsiveness" but also the decision to appoint a referee from Colombia, who came into this matchday fourth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying behind Ecuador.

“Today there was no point in appointing a referee from the fourth country in the table, when the third and first were playing," Tite said at the post-game news conference.

"Roldan is a good referee, but it gives for interpretations. The designation took a bit of sensitivity."

Tite added: "It was a difficult game. The number of fouls was exaggerated, 20 fouls by Ecuador and 12 by us.

"The circumstances happened, it wasn't evil, it was impulsive. Incorrect, yes. And it needs to be corrected, yes. It needs to be mature, yes. But it wasn't evil."

Already-qualified Argentina flexed their muscle without Lionel Messi with a 2-1 away win over Chile leaving their 2022 World Cup qualification hopes at major risk on Thursday.

Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez netted first-half goals around Ben Brereton-Diaz's looping header as Albiceleste extended their unbeaten run to 27 games.

The victory improves second-placed Argentina's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign to 32 points from 14 games, while Chile are battling to reach Qatar 2022.

La Roja, who suffered their second straight home defeat, have 16 points from 15 games and are seventh in the standings, three points behind Uruguay in the fourth automatic qualification spot after they won 1-0 in Paraguay.

Paris Saint-Germain winger Di Maria silenced the home Calama crowd in the ninth minute when he curled home a trademark left-foot strike from outside the box for his 23rd international goal.

Blackburn Rovers attacker Brereton-Diaz leveled the game up in the 20th minute when he precisely headed over Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Marcelino Nunez's diagonal cross.

Argentina restored their lead, just as Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo had gestured to be substituted due to injury, with the veteran stopper unable to hold Rodrigo De Paul's long-range strike allowing Martinez to fire home the rebound in the 34th minute.

The visitors weathered Chile's late pressure, with Brereton-Diaz forcing a good low save from Martinez with an 84th-minute header.

Alisson was given a stoppage-time VAR reprieve after conceding a penalty as Brazil somehow clung on to a 1-1 draw against Ecuador in a chaotic World Cup qualifying classic.

Felix Torres equalised with 15 minutes to go and Ecuador looked set to grab the win that would put them on the brink of qualification when awarded a last-gasp penalty, but that opportunity was taken away in an ending that befitted the remarkable 90 minutes that preceded it.

The first half saw the red card brandished three times – the first two, for Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and Brazil right-back Emerson Royal, were decisions that remained, but Alisson's was overturned.

All the controversy somewhat overshadowed Casemiro's early goal, which looked likely to be the winner given Ecuador had a goal wiped out and a penalty decision reversed soon after the restart, before Torres headed in.

Alisson was then sent off again, but for the second time his dismissal was overturned and Ecuador were denied their late spot-kick.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni will miss their upcoming World Cup qualifier against Chile due to a positive COVID-19 test.

The Albiceleste have already qualified for Qatar 2022 with five matches to play in the CONMEBOL section.

Scaloni explained at a news conference on Wednesday he had "completed the isolation" but had not received the negative test he required to enter Chile.

With assistant Pablo Aimar also absent as a close contact, coaches Walter Samuel, Roberto Ayala and Diego Placente are set to lead Argentina on Thursday.

"Both Aimar and I are not going to be able to be part of the delegation," Scaloni said. "Pablo has been in his house for several days due to [being a] close contact.

"I completed the isolation several days ago, but I continue to test positive. To enter Chile you need a negative [test result].

"Walter Samuel, Roberto Ayala and Diego Placente are going to be present as part of the coaching staff."

Scaloni also confirmed players Alexis Mac Allister and Emiliano Buendia will miss the game, with the former testing positive for COVID-19 and the latter a close contact.

After their trip to Chile, Argentina are due to play at home to Colombia on Tuesday.

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez "cannot understand" why players are being forced to play so many fixtures in such a congested period.

South American nations are playing two World Cup qualifiers over the coming days, after FIFA inserted an extra international break into the calendar.

European countries are not in action, but CONMEBOL are attempting to catch up on fixtures missed due to the coronavirus pandemic and last year's Copa America.

Uruguay are one of five teams separated by just two points in the qualification standings, but have lost their past four games by an aggregate of 11-1.

They travel to Paraguay on Thursday, before hosting Venezuela on February 1. However, that second game comes just two days before a crucial Copa del Rey tie for Real Madrid, and Federico Valverde is set to travel back to Spain for that match.

Three other players, Getafe trio Mathias Olivera, Damian Suarez and Mauro Arambarri, could well have to be involved in a LaLiga match on February 4, while Suarez's Atletico Madrid are in action against his former club Barcelona on February 6.

It is a situation that leaves Suarez frustrated.

"I have to speak about the physical part of being a human being as well as a sportsman," he told reporters.

"We cannot understand how it is that we will compete in a World Cup qualifier next Tuesday and that Pajarito [Valverde] in this case, will have to compete in a Copa del Rey match.

"That my colleagues from Getafe, Mauro, Damian and Mati, will have to play that Friday in a LaLiga match. The schedule is quite tight, but we have to adapt to it.

"We are professionals and will do our job on the pitch because that is demanded from us, but sometimes the players are not in other people's thoughts.

"It happened before when we played three qualifiers in 10 days, with long trips of more than 12-15 hours, and obviously fatigue then has an influence."

Suarez, however, insists the squad's full focus is on arresting their dismal form and pushing on to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar this year.

He said: "There are players who go through different stages of both winning and losing streaks. But when you come into the national team, the games that you have been playing suddenly do not matter.

"What matters is the hunger to compete, the wish to live and feel what I feel with this shirt on and to keep demonstrating that I am prevailing and that I want to keep competing and have the burning ambition to make it to the World Cup.

"I've been lucky enough to have played in three World Cups already and now, at 35 years old, I want to continue with that same ambition and I wish to keep playing World Cups and to have the chance to play at my fourth World Cup. Because of that, I am here."

Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) director Juninho has confirmed Brazil will not release Real Madrid players before the end of the international break.

South American teams are in World Cup qualifying action over the coming week, with FIFA having inserted an extra international window into this season's calendar to make up for time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brazil have already qualified for this year's World Cup in Qatar and sit top of the CONMEBOL standings on 35 points.

They face Ecuador on Thursday and Paraguay on February 1. 

Madrid, meanwhile, have a Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic on February 3.

Four Madrid players – Casemiro, Eder Militao, Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior – have been called up for Brazil.

However, Juninho insisted that even if the players do not feature in each of Brazil's games, they will remain with the national team until February 2 when the international window ends, meaning there is little chance of Los Blancos having the quartet available for the trip to San Mames.

"We are not going to release the players," Juninho told Spanish radio show El Larguero.

"The players have to be with us until the end of the FIFA period, on February 2. Depending on how they play the first match [we will] discuss whether or not they play the second.

"They will be with us until the end. We are not willing to release them. We cannot set a precedent. We have had requests from other clubs.

"We have a few days with the players. We must take advantage of this year now that the preparation for the World Cup has begun."

Juninho stressed Brazil have turned down Madrid's requests on the grounds of fairness to other teams.

"We can't, it's not that we don't want to," he added.

"In Tite's management it has never happened. That is not the situation, we understand the situation of the clubs. It has happened because of the pandemic. Before, there was no January date. It is the situation that was forced on us.

"We have a very good relationship with the clubs. We always talk cordially. [Brazil coach] Tite has explained the situation to Ancelotti. 

"It was in a good tone. They understood our situation and I think they haven't had any problems."

Asked if Tite had discussed the issue with the players in question, Juninho said: "I guess Tite has talked to them and made the situation very clear.

"The October [2022] dates were cancelled and we only have a week to prepare for the World Cup [in November]. There is only one week for Tite to be with the players and see how they are. The clubs understand that.

"I also spoke with [Paris Saint-Germain director] Leonardo and the English clubs on other occasions with the same problems."

Rodrygo has his sights set on World Cup glory with Brazil later this year following his call-up to the squad.

The Real Madrid winger has been selected by Tite for his nation's qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay this week.

The Selecao, who sit top of the CONMEBOL qualifying table, are already guaranteed a place in Qatar having collected 35 points from their opening 13 matches. 

Rodrygo has three senior caps to his name and knows the upcoming games present an opportunity for him to stake his claim to appear at the finals, and helping Brazil claim a sixth World Cup triumph – and first since 2002 – tops his priority list for this calendar year.

"It is very important for me to be [back in the] Brazil [squad]," he said in quotes reported on Marca via TNT Brazil.

"It was a goal to return to [the] Brazil [squad]. I think these games can define things, and I hope to play and settle in the national team.

"All Brazilians want to be in Qatar. I'm going to work to try to be there. If I play well, I have a chance [to go].

"[If I had to choose a title to win in 2022, I'd say] the World Cup."

Rodrygo has made 17 appearances for Madrid in LaLiga this season, with 11 of those coming as a substitute – the same as Luka Jovic – with none of his team-mates appearing from the bench more often. 

He has had more joy in the Champions League however, scoring in victories over Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk.

The 21-year-old has attempted 16 dribbles in Europe's premier competition this term, with Vinicius Junior (36) the only Los Blancos player to top that.

Rodrygo will hope to be involved again as Carlo Ancelotti's side face Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, and he is excited by the prospect of lining up against one of his compatriots.

"This game could have come a bit later [in the competition]," he added.

"They have some of the best players in the world. We know it's difficult, but it's a collective effort that will give us the chance to go through.

"Playing against Neymar will be special. I hope Real Madrid win."

Lionel Messi has not been included in Lionel Scaloni's latest Argentina squad as he continues to recover from coronavirus.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has not played a match in almost a month, with the 1-1 Ligue 1 draw at Lorient on December 22 being his most recent outing.

He contracted COVID-19 while back home in Argentina during the mid-season break, forcing him to return to France later than initially planned.

Messi seemed all set to return to action against Lyon on January 9, but PSG said he needed to continue his recovery and then he also missed the 2-0 win over Brest on Saturday.

While he said last week that "I have almost recovered", Messi did reveal on social media that getting over the illness took "longer than I thought".

Given his situation, Argentina have seemingly deemed it pointless risking Messi or further disrupting his recovery given they have already secured qualification for this year's World Cup.

Argentina travel to Chile on Thursday before hosting Colombia five days later, with both opponents still desperately fighting for the right to play at Qatar 2022.

La Albiceleste's other remaining qualifiers are against Venezuela and surprise-package Ecuador in March.

 

Uruguay appointed former Inter Miami boss Diego Alonso as head coach of the CONMEBOL nation, it was announced on Tuesday.

Former Uruguay international Alonso replaces Oscar Tabarez after the legendary coach was sacked last month following a 15-year tenure.

Uruguay parted with Tabarez amid the country's woes after four consecutive defeats in 2022 World Cup qualifying left them seventh in the 10-team standings, but just one point adrift of fourth-placed Colombia and the final automatic qualification berth.

The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) made no further comment upon confirming Alonso as the new coach.

River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo was reportedly the AUF's number one target before the Argentine coach re-signed with the champions.

Uruguay then turned to Alonso, who was available after his departure from David Beckham's MLS outfit Inter Miami in January.

Alonso – an eight-time international – has also coached Monterrey, Pachuca, Olimpia, Penarol, Guarani and Bella Vista.

The 46-year-old guided both Monterrey and Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League glory in 2019 and 2017 respectively.

Alonso's first match in charge of Uruguay will be against ninth-placed Paraguay on January 27.

The final play-off draw for the 2022 World Cup has taken place, with four teams to compete for two places in Qatar.

On Friday, following the draw for the European play-offs – in which Italy and Portugal were drawn in the same path – FIFA also completed the draw for the inter-confederation games.

These matches will take place in Qatar in June 2022.

One team from each of the federations of Asia (AFC), South America (CONMEBOL), the Caribbean, North and Central America (CONCACAF) and Oceania (OFC) will compete in the single-leg fixtures to settle the final two places in the 32-team tournament.

The AFC side, which will be the winner of the fourth-round play-off in the Asian zone, were drawn against the CONMEBOL team, which will be the fifth-ranked side in the South American qualifying standings - that spot is currently occupied by Peru, with four matchdays remaining.

In the other match, the winner of the OFC qualifiers will take on the fourth-placed team from the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers. 

The 2022 World Cup gets underway in exactly one year's time.

The tournament has courted controversy ever since its hosting rights were awarded, but it promises to be quite the spectacle in a part of the world that has never hosted it before.

Here is everything you need to know about the finals...

Where is the World Cup being held?

The 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar. It is the first time the tournament will be held in the Middle East

The finals will be staged in five cities: Al Wakrah, Al Khor, Al Rayyan, Lusail, and the capital, Doha.

Qatar is the smallest country ever to host the World Cup. With a surface area of 11,500 square kilometres, it is the 158th largest country in the world and can be traversed in roughly two hours.

A peninsula nation whose economy is powered by oil and natural gas, Qatar has been constructing what FIFA describes as "some of the most eco-friendly and architecturally advanced sporting facilities ever seen" ahead of the tournament.

When does the tournament take place?

The 2022 World Cup will be held from November 21 until December 18, with 64 matches played. The time frame has been slightly condensed because of the impact a winter World Cup will have on many of the world's domestic seasons.

The opening match takes place at Al Bayt Stadium on November 21, with the group stage finishing on December 2. The round of 16 begins the following day.

The quarter-finals will be held on December 9 and 10, with the semi-finals on December 13 (at Lusail Stadium) and December 14 (at Al Bayt Stadium).

The third-place play-off is on December 17 at Khalifa International Stadium, with the final on December 18 at Lusail Stadium.

 

What are the venues?

The tournament is being held across five city regions: Al Wakrah, Al Khor and Lusail contain one stadium each, with two in Al Rayyan and a further three in Doha.

The venues and their capacities are:

Al Rayyan
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium: 44,000

Education City Stadium: 45,350

Al Khor
Al Bayt Stadium: 60,000

Al Wakrah
Al Janoub Stadium: 40,000

Doha
Al Thumama Stadium: 40,000

Ras Abu Aboud Stadium: 40,000

Khalifa International Stadium: 40,000

Lusail
Lusail Iconic Stadium: 80,000

 

 

Which teams have qualified?

At the moment, the following teams have qualified for the finals:

Qatar (automatically qualified as host nation)

Denmark

Germany

Brazil

France

Belgium

Croatia

Spain

Serbia

England

Switzerland

Netherlands

Argentina

 

Why is it controversial?

The bidding process for the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has been beset by allegations of corruption.

Although a FIFA investigation cleared Qatar of wrongdoing, Swiss federal prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into the awarding of the two tournaments as part of a wider probe into alleged criminal activity concerning some former FIFA executives.

Concerns have also been raised about the treatment of migrant workers used in the massive construction projects for the tournament. Amnesty International said labourers in Qatar were subject to abuse, inhuman working conditions and little pay, describing "a playground for unscrupulous employers" in September 2019.

In response, Qatari authorities changed their employment law after entering a partnership with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) aimed at reforming their labour policies. The introduction of a new minimum wage and a commitment to end the 'kafala' system, which made it impossible for workers to change jobs without their employer's permission, were welcomed by the ILO and Amnesty International.

The decision to stage the World Cup during the Northern Hemisphere's winter was taken due to the extreme heat common in summer in Qatar. However, moving the tournament to November and December, when the European club season is at its busiest, will create a knock-on effect for 2022-23.

The Premier League, for example, plans to take a seven-week break between November 13 and December 26 to accommodate the World Cup, while the Champions League final is set to be pushed back into June. There are concerns about the physical toll the prolonged season will have on players; Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow described it as a "crazy idea".

Oscar Tabarez has been sacked as Uruguay coach, ending his 15-year reign at the helm of the national team.

The 74-year-old returned for his second spell in charge of Uruguay in 2006 – having also been in the role between 1988-1990 – after La Celeste's failure to reach the World Cup that year.

He led them to fourth place at the 2010 World Cup and presided over success in the 2011 Copa America.

However, after losing their past four games in World Cup 2022 qualifying, including a 3-0 defeat in Bolivia on Tuesday, Tabarez has been dismissed with Uruguay sitting in seventh place with four wins from their 14 games (D4 L6).

With four games remaining, they are just one point off Colombia in the fourth and final automatic qualification spot, but the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) has taken the decision to act now.

A statement released by the AUF on Friday said: "[This is] a difficult decision due to present circumstances, in a commitment to the future and the achievement of the results we all want.

"We express our respect and acknowledgment to [Tabarez's] professionalism and dedication for such a long process."

Tabarez boasts the records for most games (74, including play-offs) and most wins (31) as head coach in the history of South American World Cup qualifying.

During his first stint in charge of the national team, Tabarez took Uruguay to the 1990 World Cup, being eliminated in the round of 16 by hosts Italy.

After his re-appointment in 2006, the former Boca Juniors and Milan boss took his nation to a further three World Cups (2010, 2014 and 2018).

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