The marathon journey to Russia 2018 begins today in the CONMEBOL zone. Each of the ten South American countries will play each other home and away between now and November 2017. That’s 18 games in total, with four automatic berths for the highest ranked teams, while the fifth placed side will go into a playoff against the top team from Oceania.
And FC Barcelona has representation in four of the strongest candidates to qualify – Brazil and Argentina, with seven world titles between them, current Copa America champions Chile, and the previous champions, Uruguay, who themselves have won the World Cup twice.
CHILE v BRAZIL (8.30pm local, 1.30am CET)
And two of those teams meet in the very first round of matches. Claudio Bravo will be captaining Chile at home to Brazil and Dani Alves. Neymar Jr is still serving a suspension and misses out on the match in Santiago.
ARGENTINA v ECUADOR (9.00pm local, 2.00am CET)
The other Barça player in action is Javier Mascherano. The Monumental in Buenos Aires will be the venue as Argentina host a team that has reached three of the last four final stages, Ecuador. Former FCB manager Gerardo Martino will have to make do without the injured Leo Messi.
Next Tuesday brings the second round of matches. Brazil entertain Venezuela, while Chile and Argentina travel to Peru and Paraguay respectively.
Luis Suárez is still suspended for Uruguay's opening fixtures, which this week are away to Bolivia and at home to Colombia.