Matchday 13 in South America gets underway tomorrow, with some enticing showdowns and a classic rivalry the highlights of a hugely important day's play. With just six of the 18 rounds left, those sides with genuine hopes of making the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ know that time is of the essence. As ever, FIFA.com is here to preview the action.
As well as possessing seven world and 22 South American titles between them, Uruguay and Brazil also have the distinction of partaking in perhaps the most spectacular FIFA World Cup deciding game in history - the legendary Maracanazo of 1950. This age-old rivalry makes every meeting of the two sides a passionate affair, and this latest one will be no different. Oscar Tabarez's side, on 17 points, need a win to get themselves into one of the direct qualifying slots, while the visitors, currently second on 21, will be anxious to maintain their lofty position. For either side a defeat would complicate things considerably, and it is worth noting that A Seleção have never won a qualifier at the Centenario.
The other games
Leaders Paraguay, who will be without several of their first-choice players on Saturday, will be hoping to close in on a South Africa 2010 berth when they host Chile, four points below them on 20. The showdown at the former's Defensores del Chaco fortress will also bring together two Argentinian coaches who go back a long way: Gerardo Martino of Los Albirrojos and Chile's Marcelo Bielsa. El Tata (Martino) played under El Loco late on in his career, when the former Albiceleste tactician was starting out in club coaching at Newell's Old Boys. With the hosts having triumphed over La Roja in five of their last six meetings in Asuncion, will the pupil outsmart his former master and extend that sequence to move even closer to qualification?
Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, Colombia face a tough task against Diego Maradona's Argentina. Though both sides, on 14 and 19 points respectively, suffered reverses in their last outings, Los Cafeteros will take heart from the knowledge that they are the only team ever to have beaten La Albiceleste on home soil in a FIFA World Cup qualifier - an unforgettable 5-0 victory in September 1993. Defeat would all but end the visitors' chances, while anything less than maximum points for the hosts would threaten their automatic qualification aspirations.
For their part, Bolivia (12) welcome Cesar Farias's unpredictable Venezuela (13) side to La Paz. La Verde will be hoping to pick up where they left off in their last game, a shock 6-1 defeat of Argentina, although they will have to do it without the country's all-time top-scorer, Joaquin Botero, who recently announced his retirement from international football. As for La Vinotinto, they go in search of their first win on Bolivian soil in a bid to revive their ailing qualification chances.
The final game of Matchday 13 takes us to Lima, where a practically-eliminated Peru (7) welcome a Ecuador (14) team desperate for points if they are to participate in their third consecutive FIFA World Cup finals. Jose Del Solar's men will be playing for pride as much as anything else, Peru not having beaten Ecuador in this competition for 34 years.
Player to watch
Diego Forlan (URU)
Cachavacha, as he is known in his homeland, will be hoping for the kind of performance that made him the Spanish league's top scorer this season when he goes up against Brazil's Julio Cesar, one of the tournament's best keepers. It promises to be a fascinating duel with the Uruguayan seeking to add to his five-goal tally from the current qualifying campaign.
9 - The number of Colombian squad members who play or have played in Argentina: Luis Perea, Mario Yepes, Ivan Cordoba, Gerardo Bedoya, Freddy Guarín, Vladimir Marin, Juan Carlos Toja, Fabian Vargas and Radamel Falcao Garcia. Could the experience of this contingent help Los Cafeteros handle the atmosphere of the Estadio Monumental?
What they said
"If we get three points against Chile, we'll have taken a giant step towards World Cup qualification. We'd like to end any uncertainty [about qualifying] so as to calmly begin gearing up for South Africa." Gerardo Martino, Paraguay coach
Sunday 7 June