Brazil made all the headlines on Matchday 15 in the South American qualifying competition, easing to a comfortable 3-1 win in Argentina to become the first side from the region to assure their place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Paraguay also won and are virtually certain to join them, while Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela are all locked in an increasingly intense battle for fourth and fifth.
The 5 September is clearly a date for Argentina to avoid. Sixteen years to the day after being condemned to the play-offs by a 5-0 defeat to Colombia in Buenos Aires, La Albiceleste suffered an equally miserable evening in Rosario, going down to only their second FIFA World Cup qualifying defeat on home soil.
Despite making a strong start, Diego Maradona's men quickly ran out of steam against a typically efficient Brazil side. Luisao and Luis Fabiano rounded off two set-pieces in the space of six first-half minutes to put the visitors in an impregnable position. And when Datolo gave the home fans hope with a superb long-range effort, Fabiano was on hand almost immediately to snuff out any chance of an Argentinian revival.
Having now assured their place in the finals yet again, can Brazil kick on and make it world crown number six in South Africa next year?
The Santiago faithful turned up in expectation of a party on a cold and rainy night only for La Vinotinto to spoil their fun with another impressive display. Cesar Farias' charges came close to repeating their 2001 win when Maldonado and Rey put them ahead after Vidal's opener. Millar's left-footed drive ensured a share of the spoils, however, and took the Chileans a step closer to the finals. Still well in the hunt, the Venezuelans are now just two points adrift of fifth place.
Paraguay were indebted to Salvador Cabanas' late first-half penalty as they overcame Bolivia in Asuncion. Goalkeeper Hugo Suarez led the visitors' resistance but was powerless to prevent Cabanas from sealing La Albirroja's eighth win of the competition. Gerardo Martino's side now have the chance to seal their place in the finals when they entertain Argentina in the Paraguayan capital on Wednesday evening.
Colombia chalked up a deserved 2-0 defeat of Ecuador to throw the contest for the play-off spot wide open. Second best to El Tri for most of the game, the home side capitalised on Pablo Palacios' dismissal to snatch three vital points in the closing minutes of the game. Jackson Martinez set them on the road to victory when he slotted home just eight minutes after coming on, and Teofilo Gutierrez made sure of the points in injury time. Los Cafeteros now lie fifth on goal difference.
Uruguay had an away-day to forget in Lima. Despite having already been eliminated, the Peruvians drew inspiration from the return of veterans Roberto Palacios and Nolberto Solano to put La Celeste's qualification hopes in jeopardy with a 1-0 win, only their second of the campaign. Hernan Rengifo's classy finish proved the difference between the sides as the Uruguayans paid dearly for their wayward finishing. A similar slip-up at home to Colombia on Wednesday could prove fatal.
Player of the day
Luis Fabiano (BRA)
O Fabuloso was Brazil's hero with two goals, one a tap-in from close range and the other a delicate flick. The Argentinian defence had no answer to the finishing instinct and mobility of the Sevilla striker, who confirmed the impressive form he showed in the FIFA Confederations Cup and is now the section's top scorer with nine.
15 - The number of points Brazil have amassed away from home in the qualifying group, half of their overall total and an indication of the strength of the five-time world champions, an ever-present at the FIFA World Cup finals.
What they said
"That was the most important game of the campaign so far and that's why we played the way we did. We're there now; I can feel it. We've taken a gigantic step thanks to this really important win." Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino celebrates his side's defeat of Bolivia.