Amid Uruguayan continuity, pressure is on Brazil and Argentina seek new start
In the four-year cycle of international football, the year that follows a World Cup is silly season for South American countries.
Competitive action does not resume until next June, with the Copa America in Brazil, but even though there is a title at stake, the primary aim for many coaches will be to prepare a squad for 2022 qualifiers, which begin toward the end of 2019.
Until then, there is nothing but friendlies. Many are money-chasing exercises played around the world, but that does not render them meaningless. Many coaches are new to their job and they relish every opportunity to get together with players and define a style of play.
So, taking teams in order from most- to least-prepared, here the 10 CONMEBOL nations stand as they go into this month's FIFA dates, as well as the opponents they are set to face.
1. Uruguay (vs. South Korea, Oct. 12; Japan, Oct. 16)
Oscar Washington Tabarez's second spell as manager began in 2006 and keeps rolling, despite a minor hiccup last month when problems in the domestic game prevented him from signing a new contract. An assistant took charge for a friendly against Mexico and the fact Uruguay won 4-1 is perhaps proof that the national team is so organised that it practically runs itself. This year will be used to introduce graduates from a highly successful Under-20 side; the blend of promising youth and top-class experience suggests Uruguay will keep moving in the right direction.
2. Peru (vs. Chile; Oct. 12; United States, Oct. 16)
Retaining the services of Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca was a welcome relief after he took a young side to Peru's first World Cup since 1982, identifying a promising group of players and filling them with confidence. The same squad, minus centre-forward Paolo Guerrero (ruled out by a doping ban) still have more to give. They were tested last month in matches away to Netherlands and Germany, taking the lead in both games before losing 2-1. This next cycle will reveal how high Gareca's Peru can fly.
3. Brazil (vs. Saudi Arabia, Oct. 12; Argentina, Oct. 16)
The five-time World Cup winners are under more short-term pressure than any of their continental rivals. A disappointing recent tournament record, plus the fact that they are hosts, makes victory in next year's Copa America imperative, not least for Tite, who might not survive any other result. The coach is in the process of fine-tuning a team that could have gone further than the quarterfinals in Russia, while also bringing on youngsters in less-demanding fixtures. The match vs. Argentina looks to be Brazil's first serious test since the World Cup.
4. Venezuela (vs. Basque Country, Oct. 12; United Arab Emirates, Oct. 16)
The only South American country never to have appeared at a World Cup, Venezuela are very confident of making it to Qatar. Under former goalkeeper Rafael Dudamel, they put in a strong finish to 2018 qualifying, conceding just one goal in the last four matches. Even better, Dudamel led the country's best-ever generation to second place in last year's Under-20 World Cup and hopes are high that they can reproduce some of that success at senior level.
5. Chile (vs. Peru, Oct. 12; Mexico, Oct. 16)
Life has often been difficult for South America's smaller nations after a great generation moves on and Chile acted quickly, having run out of steam and failed to make it to Russia. Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda has extensive World Cup experience, but he is also a youth development specialist; exactly what Chile need as they develop a new group. In six friendlies, Rueda's team have looked organised and more orthodox than the daring days of Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli. The doubt, though, is whether they have enough quality to keep punching above their weight.
6. Bolivia (vs. Myanmar, Oct. 13; Iran, Oct. 16)
Not only have Bolivia had the weakest national team on the continent, they seem almost cursed by chaotic directors and have gone through coaches at a frantic rate. Now, though, they seem to have appointed an interesting manager. Cesar Farias did a fine job with his native Venezuela, organising their defensive system and winning some famous victories; if he can do likewise with Bolivia, then the advantage of playing home games at the extreme altitude of La Paz could make them contenders for a 2022 slot.
7. Ecuador (vs. Qatar, Oct. 12; Oman, Oct. 16)
Colombian Hernan Dario Gomez took Ecuador to their first World Cup in 2002, but he was a controversial choice to return for a second spell in charge follow the disappointment of Panama's winless campaign in Russia. While Gomez attempts to swat aside accusations he is past his best, he seems intent on experimenting and we might have to wait until the Copa America for a firm analysis of his intentions for Ecuador.
8. Paraguay (training camp only; no games)
The only team not to have played since the World Cup, Paraguay have made an intriguing choice of coach. Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio, fresh from three years in charge of Mexico that ended with a run to the Round of 16 in Russia, could be a good fit for the dynamic and direct football that Paraguay play at their best. At the start of the new era, Osorio has opted against friendlies, instead choosing to use the time getting to know his players and develop a style of play.
9. Argentina (vs. Iraq, Oct. 11; Brazil; Oct. 16)
After a shambolic World Cup and a disastrous decade at Under-20 level, Argentina have resolved to take their time with regard to the choice of coach and structural overhaul. In the meantime, Lionel Scaloni is in caretaker charge of the national team and he has radically changed the squad -- Lionel Messi and other big names have been missing -- and attempted to implant a more direct style of play. For all his inexperience and lack of preparation time, there was a clear idea of a team in last month's friendlies vs. Guatemala and Colombia. The Brazil game should be fascinating.
10. Colombia (vs. United States, Oct. 11; Costa Rica, Oct. 16)
The Colombian FA made something of a mess following the World Cup when there was a long wait while the situation of coach Jose Pekerman was not defined. He eventually chose to leave, but had the federation acted earlier, they would surely have tempted Juan Carlos Osorio. As it stands, indecision reigns; youth coach Arthuro Reyes has taken charge and is gently carrying out a renovation process, but the appointment of the next coach will bring it several issues to address.