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 By Tim Vickery

Ecuador vs. Colombia puts CONMEBOL qualifying sides' deficiencies on display

Gab Marcotti and Alejandro Moreno enthusiastically debate whether Brazil can be called the world's best team right now.
Steve Nicol expresses surprise in Brazil's defensive improvement under Tite, made evident in their win at Uruguay.
Alejandro Moreno says Argentina's win over Chile in qualifying covered up glaring problems for Edgardo Bauza's side.

With five rounds of the 18 to go, there are now four separate competitions taking place in CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Brazil are in a category of their own. Seven consecutive victories have given them a seven-point lead at the top of the table. They are all but mathematically qualified for Russia 2018 and can use the rest of competition to try to ensure that they have not peaked too soon.

At the other end of the scale are Venezuela and Bolivia, down at the foot of the table with no...

ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Paulinho hat trick helps Brazil extend lead; Lionel Messi goal lifts Argentina

Paulinho admitted his surprise after scoring a hat-trick against Uruguay in their World Cup Qualifier in Montevideo.

A Paulinho hat trick helped Brazil to a 4-1 victory over Uruguay in a clash of the top two teams in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying on Thursday.

Uruguay were awarded a penalty on nine minutes when Alisson took down Edinson Cavani after the PSG striker had beaten the Brazil keeper to a chested back-pass from left-back Marcelo.

Cavani then stepped up and powered his shot low and to the right of Alisson to give the home side a 1-0 advantage.

Paulinho scored the first of his goals to put Brazil level...

 By Tim Vickery

The state of play in South America's World Cup qualifiers

Alejandro Moreno and Alexis Nunes predict which teams will prevail ahead of a juicy slate of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.
Gab Marcotti explains why FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams has its benefits, but not everyone agrees.

There are no real prizes for coming first. Or second for that matter. World Cup qualification in South America is all about crossing the line and making it through to Russia.

The first four teams qualify automatically for next year's tournament, with the side finishing fifth having to play off against opponents from Oceania. And as the competition moves into the final third, only Brazil are really sitting pretty.

Those six consecutive wins under new coach Tite have carried Brazil to 27 points. In...

 By Tim Vickery

48-team World Cup could negatively affect South American qualifying

Gab Marcotti and Shaka Hislop join Outside the Lines and have their say at FIFA expanding the World Cup to 48 teams.
Gab Marcotti joins Outside the Lines to discuss the reasons behind moving the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2026.
Shaka Hislop expresses his disapproval at FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams.

On the website of CONMEBOL, the South American Confederation, there is an article entitled: "From 13 teams in Uruguay 1930 to 48 in the 2026 World Cup."

It is a neat way of reminding everyone of one of the great trump cards of the South American game: its fabulous tradition. This is the continent where the World Cup began and which has won nine versions of the tournament, divided between Brazil (five wins) and Uruguay and Argentina (two apiece).

The big three has provided Barcelona with the "MSN"...

 By Tim Vickery

Antonio Valencia continues to set the standard for Ecuadorians abroad

Antonio Valencia in action for Manchester United against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
At Manchester United since 2009, Antonio Valencia continues to set the standard for Ecuadorian players abroad.

Born in Argentina, goalkeeper Esteban Dreer spent a couple of years in Lithuania before moving to Ecuador in 2009. So well has he adapted that he has taken out citizenship and become Ecuador's first-choice goalkeeper, featuring in five games of the current World Cup qualification campaign, including all of the past four

Dreer, then, is well placed to put his adopted country into perspective. He says: "The Ecuadorian player is at a top level in South American football. They have technique, speed...