Having already secured qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, a depleted Brazil maintained top spot in the South American standings last Wednesday night. Paraguay sealed their ticket for the finals in style, while Ecuador climbed to fourth and boosted their hopes.
The two matchdays also featured some outstanding individual performances, as a number of players justified their tags as emerging stars. FIFA.com takes a closer look at some of the players currently turning heads in South America.
Nilmar seizes big chance
For many observers, Brazil's impressive win over Argentina, which guaranteed their presence at South Africa 2010, confirmed Luis Fabiano as the natural successor to Ronaldo. Nevertheless, the continent's leading goalscorer, who was suspended for Wednesday's game against Chile, can ill-afford to rest on his laurels, with his replacement Nilmar netting a hat-trick to extend A Seleção's unbeaten run to 19 games.
Nilmar, who moved to Villarreal last year having won the Copa Sudamericana with Internacional of Porto Alegre, seems made for the big stage. Dunga has used the forward on only three occasions this campaign but he has already weighed in with four goals. The first was enough to take three points against Paraguay in Recife, while Wednesday's hat-trick was crucial to overcoming a battling Chile in Salvador.
"I know I'm not an automatic starter as I have Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Adriano ahead of me. All I can do is perform when called upon." Nilmar's humility before facing La Roja was in sharp contrast to the confidence of his display on the pitch. The 25-year-old opened the scoring with an acrobatic right-footed finish, before setting up Julio Baptista for the second.
Nilmar then scored Brazil's third with a glancing header and assured the win by slotting home an opportunistic rebound. Such was his impact that there can surely be no doubt about his inclusion in the squad for South Africa next year.
Paraguay's path secured
When Nelson Haedo Valdez, then taking his first tentative steps in German football, was called into the Paraguay squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2003, he was still a relative unknown - even to the coaching staff. "If he's playing over there he ought to be good," they commented at the time.
Their instincts were justified, and he was not to disappoint. Six years later it was Valdez's goal against Argentina that assured Los Albirrojos automatic qualification for their fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup.
"For me, representing my country is really special and I passionately play for those colours," he told FIFA.com in the days leading up to the game. That passion was very much in evidence during the 90 minutes when, along with strike partner Salvador Cabanas, Valdez unhinged Argentina's defence again and again, dispelling concerns over the absence of Roque Santa Cruz. Indeed it was a combination between these two that led to the Borussia Dortmund attacker's winner, an unstoppable left-footed strike fired past Sergio Romero.
With qualification assured, Valdez was in buoyant mood after the game. "We play as a team and that's more important than who scores. Bring on the top dogs now," he declared, grinning. South Africa promises to be a great occasion for the Guarani, and an opportunity to redeem their poor showing at Germany 2006. Valdez, with a total of five goals in qualifying, will be central to that bid.
Valencia fuelling Ecuadorian hopes
When Antonio Valencia's transfer to Manchester United was concluded, some fans expressed surprise. But the winger, nominated for the Best Young Player award at Germany 2006, has already begun to show his considerable talents at Old Trafford. Last Wednesday these attributes were very much on display in a priceless 3-1 win for Ecuador over Bolivia, a result that moved his side into fourth place and the final automatic qualification spot.
Valencia's performance was central to the victory, in particular his mazy runs down the right side, one of which he capped with a fine strike to give El Tricolor a two-goal cushion early in the second half. The player then rounded off a superb individual display by providing the assist for Christian Benitez for the third.
"The truth is I was still hurting from the chance I missed against Colombia. On that occasion I was indecisive but this time I was really determined. I struck the ball with a lot of power, I really wanted to score that one," he said after the final whistle. With such resolve, it is fair to say his impact in the remaining two matches could go a long way to deciding Ecuador's fate in the current preliminaries.