With just one round of CONMEBOL qualifying matches remaining, the South American picture is already quite clear and all signs point to the continent as a whole putting in a strong showing at Brazil 2014:
World Cup qualifying: Falcao drains two late penalties to lead Colombia to 3-3 draw against Chile, sealing ticket. http://t.co/JEbJv6O3Tj— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 12, 2013
Brazil, as hosts, were granted automatic entry, while Argentina and Colombia have also booked their tickets.
Ecuador, Chile and Uruguay are all guaranteed to finish in the top five of the South American qualifying group, so the only question to be answered on the final match day is which of those three will finish fifth and be forced into a two-legged play-off with Jordan.
Uruguay are looking by far the most likely to endure the play-off situation—even if they beat Argentina in Buenos Aires, they will require a big swing in goal difference to overtake either of the other two sides and thus gain automatic qualification.
Whichever side does end up facing Jordan, they will fancy their chances of overcoming the team from the Middle East over two legs.
The fact that the 2014 World Cup is being held in Brazil already augurs well for South American nations.
Of the seven World Cups held in the Americas, all seven have been won by South American teams.
Even aside of the inherent advantage that comes with playing on their home continent, this is perhaps the strongest South American contingent, on paper at least, ever to enter a finals tournament.
Let's take a quick look over the six sides who will be representing the continent in Brazil (assuming, for argument's sake, that Jordan fail to cause a major upset in the play-off tie).
Following their impressive conquest of the Confederations Cup in June, Brazil are now favorites with most bookmakers to claim a sixth world title on home soil next year. Led by the youthful superstar Neymar, the Selecao will be very, very hard to stop in front of their home fans.
With the world's best player in Lionel Messi in their squad, Argentina would be among the front-runners to win the tournament, regardless of the make-up of the rest of the team. Coach Alejandro Sabella has managed to construct a tight, organized unit around Messi, though, made up of a handful of other star attacking players and workable defenders who are all pulling in the same direction. They are up there with Brazil as one of the major contenders.
Los Cafeteros have stalled somewhat in the latter part of qualifying but had already done enough in the early stages to qualify for Brazil at a canter. They deserve to be considered dark horses for the tournament with their well-balanced mix of experienced veterans and exciting young talents. It would be no surprise to see Jose Pekerman's team still involved from the quarter-finals and beyond.
Like Colombia, Chile have a strong enough side realistically to hope for a top eight or better finish in Brazil. A highly technical stable of midfielders featuring the likes of Arturo Vidal, Matias Fernandez, Jorge Valdivia and David Pizarro (and the brawn of Gary Medel) is Chile's clear strength, and coach Jorge Sampaoli has shown he knows how to get the best out of the gifted individuals at his disposal.
La Celeste's World Cup pedigree is matched by few other nations in football. A slow start to qualification was followed by improved performances in the second half of the campaign. If Uruguay can get past a probable play-off and make it into the tournament proper, they will be able to call on their famous garra, or fighting spirit, as well as two of the finest frontmen in the world in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Their opponents in Brazil will write off their chances at their peril.
Low expectations could aid Ecuador's cause in the World Cup finals. They are perhaps the South American side with the least fearsome reputation heading into the tournament, but that is not to say they are not an excellent team, driven by a determination to honor the memory of forward Christian Benitez, who passed away in June. Home advantage has played a large part in their strong showing in qualification, but they will still be a tough prospect in Brazil for whoever they come up against.