For national teams across South America, 28 March 2009 is set to mark their eagerly awaited return to qualifying action on the road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Four months have passed since the tenth round of matches in the CONMEBOL Zone, more than enough time for the teams and their key components to rest weary legs, try new players and brace themselves for the fierce challenges ahead. FIFA.com brings you an update on those teams currently holding the coveted top five spots in the qualifying standings.
Paraguay: Continuing momentum
After a storming start to their campaign, Gerardo Martino's charges appear to already have one foot at South Africa 2010. Far from taking their collective feet off the pedal, the Albirroja would surely love nothing more than to finish ahead of regional heavyweights Brazil and Argentina. Recent 1-0 friendly wins over Oman and Peru have served to underline the team's solidity and effectiveness, while coach El Tata Martino is likely to keep faith with the key men behind Paraguay's highly impressive 2008. However, the man at the helm has hinted at blooding some of the youngsters who sealed the country's place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009.
Position: 1st (23 points)
Next matches: Uruguay (away) and Ecuador (away)
Main man: Roque Santa Cruz
The words: "We've already made important strides but we've still got the final step to take. That (final step) could come over our next four matches, which are the toughest ones in our run-in," Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino.
Brazil: Hopes renewed
The year 2008 drew to a close with Dunga's team short on confidence and subject to a barrage of criticism in the wake of three successive goalless draws on home soil. Yet the Seleção supremo appears to have breathed new life into his side after masterminding a 6-2 friendly win over Portugal in Brasilia, and a 2-0 triumph against world champions Italy in London. The return to form of Ronaldinho and Adriano can only bode well for the remaining qualifiers.
Position: 2nd (17 points)
Next matches: Ecuador (away) and Peru (home)
Main man: Kaka
The words: "We enjoy playing the way we did in these friendlies. And when we do that we're tough to beat. We're hoping to build on this now in qualifying," Brazil forward Robinho.
Argentina: Diego's star shining bright
The biggest change for the Albiceleste has come at the top with Diego Armando Maradona replacing previous head coach Alfio Basile. El Diez has made few alterations in terms of personnel, though he has placed great emphasis on improving the mindset of the players. Friendly successes away to Scotland (1-0) and France (2-0), Argentina's first back-to-back wins since beating Egypt and Mexico last year, would suggest the two-time world champions are on the right track.
Position: 3rd (16 points)
Next matches: Venezuela (home) and Bolivia (away)
Main man: Lionel Messi
The words: "You get goose-bumps every time Diego talks to you. We're very happy with the national team set-up and I'm sure Argentina are going to do very well," Argentina striker Carlos Tevez.
Chile: Optimism aplenty
The general feeling in Chilean football circles is that Marcelo Bielsa's side are more than capable of returning to football's top table for the first time since France 1998. The Roja drew an encouraging 2008 to a close with a highly impressive qualifying win over Argentina and, though they subsequently went down 3-0 and 2-0 respectively against friendly opponents Spain and El Salvador, they bounced back with a 2-0 friendly success away to South Africa. That display, allied to the form being shown by the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Humberto Suazo, has given supporters license to set their sights high.
Position: 4th (16 points)
Next matches: Peru (away) and Uruguay (home)
Main man: Humberto Suazo
The words: "The results of the recent friendlies gain in significance because we're going into a decisive phase of qualifying. For that reason, the win against South Africa was more than positive," Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Uruguay: Out to shake risky habit
The facts do not lie. Uruguay have had to go to a play-off at the end of their last two FIFA World Cup preliminary campaigns and, were South Africa 2010 qualifying to end today, they would have to do so yet again this time around. Oscar Tabarez's charges have eight games to improve on their current position though recent friendlies failed to shed much light on their prospects. The Celeste followed up a solid 0-0 draw in France with a laboured 3-2 win away to Libya, with the latter display marked by defensive deficiencies that would be keenly exploited by their South American rivals.
Position: 5th (13 points)
Next matches: Paraguay (home) and Chile (away)
Main man: Diego Forlan
The words: "Uruguay have been doing better for a while now and that's coming through out on the pitch. The team's playing well, the young lads are too and we're hoping to crown it all by sealing qualification," Uruguay forward Diego Forlan.
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