The South American Qualifiers for the World Cup are long. More than a year and a half and 18 dates. There is time to fall and recover several times and no results are final until the last day. However, the history indicates that to qualify it is very important to win the first game. Or at least not lose it.
Since the format was changed in 1996 and it is played in an extensive free-for-all, the situation has changed and it is no longer all or nothing from the beginning. Now it is a long-distance race, in which consistency is rewarded and short streaks are not so valuable. In the past, in which everything was defined in a couple of months and few games, starting well was essential. Today it is only desirable.
Between France 1998 and Russia 2018 there were 28 South American World Cup qualifiers. Argentina did it on all six occasions; Brazil in four (in 2002 it was champion and in 2014 local), like Paraguay and Uruguay; Colombia, Ecuador and Chile in three and Peru in one.
Of those 28, 15 debuted with a win, more than half. Five with a draw and eight with defeat. The conclusion seems obvious: winning is not mandatory, although it does increase the possibilities.
Until the last edition, only Paraguay (in 1998, 2002 and 2006) and Chile (in 2010 and 2014) had achieved the passage after losing on the first date. La Albirroja against Colombia and Peru (twice) and La Roja always against Argentina. The trend was reversed in 2016, when Argentina, Brazil and Peru started with defeat and recovered in time to reach qualification in 2017.
Beyond the coincidence of the last Eliminatory, it does seem to be a death sentence to lose the first game at home. The only one who achieved the goal after falling at home was Argentina in 2018. The 0-2 against Ecuador (the same rival this Thursday) was a historical but not lapidary setback for Albiceleste, which sealed the ticket to Russia on the last date in Quito.
With the old format, the trend is even more noticeable. Between 1954 (when the classification was played for the first time in South America) and 1994, 32 selected from the continent qualified for the World Cup, of which 20 did so after winning in the presentation. Only two lost and still made it: Argentina in 1958 after losing in La Paz and Chile in 1974 after Peru’s 2-0 in Lima (La Roja eliminated the Soviet Union, which did not appear to play the playoffs due to the coup d’état perpetrated by Augusto Pinochet against Salvador Allende).
If you take the 60-plus year history of Playoffs, nearly 60 percent of qualifiers won on their debut and only 16 percent lost.