After over two years of fierce competition, 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying in the South American Zone is drawing to a close. And in 14 October's final round of matches there remains one direct berth for South Africa and a play-off against the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF region still up for grabs. Age-old rivals Uruguay and Argentina have everything to play for in Montevideo, while Ecuador need goals galore away to Chile. Venezuela, for their part, require a near miracle to finish fifth and secure a play-off berth.
Separated only by the waters of the River Plate, Charrúas and Gauchos will, for 90 minutes at least, be arguing over something other than the true nationality of tango legend Carlos Gardel. In the same arena where the two nations contested the first FIFA World Cup Final in 1930, Uruguay and Argentina are set to clash for the last available automatic qualifying berth for South Africa 2010, a ticket Ecuador can also still claim if results go their way.
A win for either side in the Centenario will earn them direct passage, though a draw would do for Diego Maradona's charges as long as El Tricolor do not beat La Roja by five goals or more in Santiago.
The other matches
At the same time as sparks fly between Uruguay and Argentina in Montevideo, already-qualified Chile host an Ecuador side who need to win to guarantee at least a play-off spot. That said, La Roja will be keen to round off a magnificent campaign with a victory, while El Tri have not won in nine previous qualifying games on Chilean soil. Add in the psychological blow that was Ecuador's last-gasp home defeat by Uruguay at the weekend, and it would seem to be a tall order for Sixto Vizuete's men.
Over in Brazil, visitors Venezuela need to deal an emphatic defeat to the five-time world champions and hope Uruguay are routed by Argentina. The reason? La Vinotinto's goal difference of -6 compared to Los Charrúas' +9. The outlook does not look good, however, given that Venezuela have conceded 27 goals and scored none on six previous qualifying visits to Brazil - all of which ended in A Seleção wins.
Level on points with leaders Brazil but with a far inferior goal difference, Paraguay will be hoping to combine a home victory over Colombia, whose hopes for South Africa dissipated at the weekend, with a slip-up by Dunga's men. Peru and Bolivia, last and second-to-last respectively, meet in Lima to draw a line under their forgettable campaigns.
Players to watch
Luis Fabiano (BRA) and Humberto Suazo (CHI)
Brazil's O Fabuloso and the Chilean Chupete currently lead the scorers' charts with nine goals apiece in South Africa 2010 qualifying and have the opportunity to reach double figures against Venezuela and Ecuador respectively. Coming up on the outside are the seven-goal duo of Bolivia's Marcelo Martins and Uruguay's Diego Forlan, though the latter would surely put a Celeste success over Argentina ahead of any individual glory.
33 - The number of years since La Albiceleste last beat Uruguay in Montevideo. That 3-0 friendly victory came on 9 June 1976, with the pair's three FIFA World Cup qualifying meetings in the city ending in two draws and one Charrúa triumph.
"There's no chance of any funny business in the game against Ecuador. The simple fact that I'm Argentinian will see to that. We're going to do everything we can to take all the points at stake in this match," Chile coach and former Argentina supremo Marcelo Bielsa.