Matchday 16 in the South America Zone generated plenty of incident as Paraguay became the second side from the group to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Ecuador moved up to fourth, and Argentina continued their descent. Elsewhere Chile had to postpone their celebrations, while Uruguay and Venezuela stayed firmly in the hunt for the play-off place with vital wins. FIFA.com rounds up all action from Wednesday's five games.
Paraguay grabbed the day's headlines when they booked their place at the finals for the fourth time running. La Albirroja took full toll of another erratic display from a rudderless Argentina, sealing their place in South Africa thanks to Haedo Valdez's wonderful strike, which came after both he and Jonathan Santana had hit the woodwork inside the opening 25 minutes.
Juan Sebastian Veron's dismissal after the restart sealed the fate of an Argentina side suffering from an alarming lack of ideas. While compatriot Gerardo Martino takes his side forward, Diego Maradona has the task of reviving a team that has now lost four of its last five games to slip out of the top four and down to the play-off place.
Ecuador took their winning streak in La Paz to three games with a commanding 3-1 victory. Their previous two triumphs in the Bolivian capital came en route to qualification for the finals and having climbed up to fourth, Sixto Vizuete's men look well placed to keep that record going. Edison Mendez and Luis Antonio Valencia put the visitors firmly in charge with goals at the start of both halves, before Cristian Benitez sealed the points following more fine work from the Manchester United midfielder.
Uruguay turned in a gutsy display in Montevideo to earn a hard-fought and emotional 3-1 win over Colombia, who passed up an excellent opportunity to move into the top five. La Celeste were made to work for the points in a pulsating encounter that had a little bit of everything: goals, tasty tackling and a sending off for each side.
Luis Suarez gave the hosts an early lead before Jackson Martinez levelled with his first touch. Substitutes Andres Scotti and Sebastian Eguren proved the home side's saviours, however, scoring late goals to keep Oscar Tabarez's charges right in contention and set up a tantalising showdown with Ecuador in October. As for Los Cafeteros, their FIFA World Cup dream is hanging by a thread.
Battling Venezuela joined the Uruguayans on 21 points after downing Peru 3-1 at home. La Vinotinto, who were indebted to a Nicolas Fedor brace and a Ronald Vargas strike, round off their campaign against already qualified Paraguay and Brazil next month.
Chile will have to wait until then to celebrate their return to the big stage. Marcelo Bielsa took his side to Salvador in the hope of ending a four-game losing run on Brazilian soil and clinching their place in the finals. But it was not to be. Three goals from Nilmar and another from Julio Baptista overruled a Humberto Suazo double and took the home side's unbeaten run to 19 games, an indication that they will be serious title aspirants yet again next year. La Roja, who were hampered by the dismissal of Alexis Sanchez, will hope to complete the job when they visit Colombia next month.
Player of the day
Luis Antonio Valencia impressed in La Paz, as did Humberto Suazo in Salvador, but neither of them could match the Brazil striker, who hit a hat-trick on a night to remember against Chile. The Villarreal man turned in a dream performance to boost his chances of boarding the plane to South Africa next year.
8 - The number of times Paraguay have now reached the FIFA World Cup finals. La Albirroja's previous appearances came in 1930, 1950, 1958, 1986, 1998, 2002 and 2006.