World Cup 2026 Qualifiers: Argentina Edge Home Against Brazil
The sixth round of matches in the CONMEBOL World Cup 2026 qualification delivered plenty of talking points, but the bulk of the drama came at the Estadio do Maracana, where Brazil hosted rivals Argentina.
The box office encounter was marred by horrific scenes in the stands as a pre-match brawl ensued, forcing the kick-off to be delayed by half an hour. Local police were forced into action, charging at supporters from the visiting section after a fight erupted between rival fans.
The game finally resumed, but the tense nature of the contest continued throughout a poor first half, with neither side creating much in the way of big chances in a game littered with niggly fouls.
However, it was Argentina who emerged victorious, courtesy of a 63rd-minute header from veteran defender Nicolas Otamendi, which inflicted Brazil's first-ever CONMEBOL qualifying defeat on home turf.
Victory for the World Cup title holders helped them solidify their place at the summit of the CONMEBOL standings with 15 points, two ahead of Uruguay.
Brazil, who remain the only nation to have featured in every World Cup tournament, have amassed only seven points from six games and are now languishing in sixth spot.
They will be keen to extend their impressive World Cup appearance streak and will have ample time to turn things around with 12 fixtures left to play in the qualifying campaign.
However, Fernando Diniz and his Selecao side will have to significantly up the ante, considering they have now lost three qualifiers on the bounce.
In the other South American qualifiers, Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez bagged a brace as Uruguay swept aside Bolivia 3-0 to retain second place.
Colombia kept up their qualification push with a 1-0 win over Paraguay in Asuncion, while Chile's problems mounted with a 1-0 defeat against Ecuador in Quito.
Colombia, who failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, are third in the table with 12 points, while Chile are languishing precariously in eighth with just five points from six games.
Peru, who are rooted to the bottom of the pile after accumulating just two points, displayed enormous resilience to hold fourth-placed Venezuela to a 1-1 draw in Lima.
South America's chances of retaining the World Cup title
Before kick-off at Qatar 2022, Argentina were ranked as one of the favourites by the bookmakers to secure football's holy grail, but their odds fell off a cliff after a shock defeat to Saudi Arabia.
However, Lionel Messi inspired La Albiceleste to their third World Cup title and a first since Diego Maradona led the nation to victory over three decades ago.
Argentina are unlikely to have Messi in their squad for the 2026 tournament when he will be 39. Angel Di Maria, who scored in the showpiece event in Qatar, is also a doubt as he will turn 38.
The potential absence of these two crucial figures weakens their chances of retaining their position at the pinnacle of global football - a sentiment echoed by the bookies who have placed Argentina at odds of 9.00 to defend their crown.
The reigning champions remain one of the favourites for the 2026 title and will likely attract plenty of interest from bettors across the globe, alongside South American rivals Brazil.
The Selecao failed to get past the 2022 quarter-finals but have surprisingly been handed a better chance at the winning the 2026 title than their South American rivals.
Rated at 6.50 to secure the crown, Brazil is undoubtedly an interesting option on some of the best betting sites in the country, including sites-deapostas.com.
However, despite their seemingly eye-catching odds, Brazil could struggle on the grandest stage, especially considering their massively underwhelming performances in the qualifying campaign.
Diniz is unlikely to lead the Selecao at the upcoming World Cup, with the Brazilian Football Confederation keen to appoint Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti ahead of the tournament.
While Ancelotti's potential arrival will bolster their chances of a deep run, they will face fierce competition for the crown, especially from 2022 runners-up France who are also priced at 6.50.
Brazil and Argentina represent South America's best chance at retaining the World Cup crown but several heavy hitters could scupper their hopes.
These include England, who have been rated at 7.50 to mount a successful campaign.