The race places at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ is entering a decisive phase in South America, with the margin for error non-existent for some teams and slim for others. Only three points currently separate second from fifth, making Matchday 12 another high-stakes affair. Chile host Uruguay in the day's standout game, while Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela all face must-win games. As ever, FIFA.com is here to preview all the action.
After recording emphatic wins in Matchday 11, Chile (19 points) and Uruguay (16) face off in Santiago in a game crucial to their respective aspirations. If Marcelo Bielsa's men win, they would go six points clear of La Celeste with six games left and take a giant step towards South Africa. Victory for Oscar Tabarez's men, however, and the picture would change completely, leaving the middle of the group just too close to call.
The stats favour the visiting Uruguayans, who have not lost a qualifier in Santiago since going down 1-0 in the Preliminary Competition for France 1998. On their last two trips across the Andes, La Celeste have had one win (1-0 in 2001) and one draw (1-1 in 2005) to show for their efforts.
Despite deserving all three points against Brazil on Sunday, Ecuador's home draw with the Seleção makes beating Paraguay in Quito a must if they are to stay in the hunt for even a play-off berth. With considerably more room to manoeuvre are Gerardo Martino's side. Though still comfortably leading the way in the ten-team group, Los Guaraníes will doubtless be keen to bounce back after their defeat in Montevideo at the weekend. That said, La Tricolor side will take encouragement from their proud home record against the visitors, who have lost all five of their previous qualifiers on Ecuadorian soil.
For their part, Diego Maradona's resurgent Argentina travel to La Paz to take on a Bolivia side almost certainly out of the running. The footballing master-class served up by La Albiceleste on Saturday against Venezuela was in sharp contrast to Erwin Sanchez side's ineffective showing in Colombia. Though their visitors start as clear favourites, Bolivia will take heart from the return of Marcelo Martins and Joaquin Botero, two of leading scorers so far in the competition. History would suggest a close game, with Argentina recording two wins (1973, 2005), two defeats (1969, 1997) and one draw (2001) in their last five visits.
Brazil, meanwhile, have a chance to make up for their lacklustre display in Quito when they host bottom side Peru. As they anxiously look over their shoulders, Seleção fans will not need reminding their team have slipped to fourth and are only two points clear of Uruguay, who currently occupy the play-off spot. Despite managing just scoreless draws in their last three home games (against Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia), Brazil will still be confident of extending their unbeaten record against Peru in FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Completing the fixture list on Matchday 12 is the meeting of neighbours and rivals, Venezuela and Colombia, in Puerto Ordaz. Though the mood in the respective camps is markedly different, both will be desperate for the points on Tuesday night. For La Vinotinto a win could rekindle their admittedly slim qualification hopes, while the visiting Cafeteros, who currently lie sixth, know three points will put them right back in contention for at least a play-off spot .
Player to watch
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Showing a growing maturity as well as his usual incisiveness, El Niño Maravilla (The Boy Wonder) was in sparkling form in Lima at the weekend, scoring one, setting up another and earning the penalty for Chile's third. Will he enjoy similar success against a battle-hardened Celeste defence bolstered by Saturday's shut-out against in-form Paraguay?
0 - The number of home wins Venezuela have recorded against Colombia in the history of the qualifiers. In five meetings, Los Cafeteros have come away with one win (2-0 in 1996) and four draws (1-1 in 1969, 2-2 in 1985, 2-2 in 2001 and 0-0 in 2005).
What they said
"I'd like to apologise to the fans for our entire qualifying campaign, which has been poor. Am I going to step down? Now is not the moment for that kind of decision. We have to face Brazil in three days time, and the pride and determination to do well that the players and I feel is what matters most," Jose del Solar, Peru coach