The penultimate round of fixtures in the South American qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ takes place this weekend, when six teams continue the race for the two automatic qualification berths and one play-off spot that remain. Brazil and Paraguay have already booked their places at next year's showpiece event, while Chile and Ecuador could seal their own spots this weekend. The duo will be taking nothing for granted, however, as Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela and Colombia are hot on their heels in what has turned out to be the tightest preliminary competition since the current format began in 1995.
Saturday's fixtures involve four teams whose qualification hopes are very much alive. Fourth-placed Ecuador can seal their passage on the night provided they overcome Uruguay, Argentina lose to Peru, and Venezuela and Colombia fail to win their respective meetings with Paraguay and Chile. The visitors, meanwhile, require at least a point to keep their qualification dreams alive ahead of the final matchday. Realistically, though, both teams need a victory on a night when emotions will be running high.
Also hoping to secure their passage this weekend are third-placed Chile. Marcelo Bielsa's men will have to overcome a Colombia side still hopeful of finishing fifth and taking the play-off spot after winning their last three home games without conceding a goal. Meanwhile, La Roja, who will be missing the suspended Alexis Sanchez, have already won four times on the road this campaign, and are aiming for their first appearance at the FIFA World Cup since 1998.
In Buenos Aires, Diego Maradona's Argentina must put an end to their three-game losing streak if they are to avoid the ignominy of missing out. Although their opponents have never won in Argentina on seven previous visits, it was a 2-2 draw with Peru at the Bombonera in 1969 that prevented La Albiceleste from reaching the 1970 finals, the only previous time they have failed to qualify for the tournament.
Venezuela remain the only team in South America never to have qualified for the FIFA World Cup and, if they are to lose that unenviable tag, they will first have to defeat Paraguay at home on Saturday. Although already assured of qualification, La Albiroja, who have won three of their four previous visits to the Caribbean coast, have stated their intent to finish as high as possible in the standings.
Player to watch
Pablo Aimar (ARG)
Benfica's playmaker returns to the Argentinian fold after a two-year absence in a bid to stimulate the attacking efforts of Lionel Messi and Co. All eyes will be on Aimar at River Plate's stadium, where he made his own professional debut some 12 years ago.
0- The number of times Chile have won in four visits to Colombia in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Having lost three and drawn one of these meetings, can Chile get that elusive first win and seal qualification in the process.
"I've thought a lot about playing at this World Cup. It's my ultimate dream and we're just a step away. Appearing in a World Cup is the pinnacle of any player's career, and yes, I really can see us getting there," Venezuela's Juan Arango