The South American, or CONMEBOL, World Cup group, is widely regarded as the world’s toughest, due to the concentration of quality teams present and the number of games (18) each has to play.
CONMEBOL is FIFA’s smallest confederation by number of teams and all 10 members fight it out in a round-robin tournament for just 4.5 spots – the top four in the group will qualify for Russia automatically, while fifth place must duke it out with the winner of Oceania’s qualifying competition in a two-legged tie.
But which teams are still competing for a place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup – and who has already qualified?
The five-time winners were the first side to book a ticket to Russia after getting out of the blocks quickly under new coach Tite. With 10 victories in 14 games so far, the Seleção boast a mouthwatering attack of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, and many are tipping them to lift the famous trophy in Moscow come next July.
After a best-ever quarter-final placing at Brazil 2014, Colombia’s latest golden generation – including Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez – will be keen to make an impact in Europe next summer. They currently sit in second place in the group and have a relatively easy run-in, so are odds-on to qualify for Russia.
Spearheaded by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayans are always a dangerous prospect and finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup. With the group still tight, La Celeste will have to improve on their dreadful away record – one win in seven games – if they’re to be at the party in 2018.
The double Copa America champions rely on an experienced first XI, with Claudio Bravo, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez all among the country’s top five most capped players of all time. The country has never qualified for three World Cups in a row and, with Argentina breathing down their neck, they may have to negotiate a tricky play-off against New Zealand later this year to break that particular record.
On paper, the Albiceleste boast the finest attack on the planet, with superstar Lionel Messi flanked by the likes of Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala. However, the two-time world champions have struggled in qualifying and face a crunch match in Montevideo at the end of August. Win against old foes Uruguay and they’ll be halfway to Russia, but lose and their 25-year trophy duck will continue.
Traditionally the whipping boy of CONMEBOL, Ecuador have qualified for three of the last four World Cups. Captained by Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, they face a tough run-in – they still have to play Chile, Brazil and Argentina – so it would be a surprise to see them in Russia next summer.
Peru haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 1982 and look unlikely to pay the finals another visit this time round. They have a young team, though, and will view finishing 7th or above as an achievement.
Once World Cup stalwarts, the Paraguayans missed out in 2014 on their own continent and look set to be staying at home again, unless the veteran Roque Santa Cruz can come back and help bridge the five-point gap to fourth-placed Chile.
Famously poor away from their high-altitude home in La Paz, Bolivia have already been eliminated, meaning they have now missed 18 of the last 20 World Cups since debuting at the first tournament in 1930.
The only nation from the CONMEBOL federation which has never played at a World Cup, Venezuela have improved in recent decades, with star striker Salomon Rondon playing in the Premier League for West Brom. Still, they won’t be present in Russia, having won just once in 14 games so far.