After a seven-month lay-off, South America's finest are back in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying action this weekend with five games up and down the continent. Paraguay, who lead the table heading into matchday five, entertain Brazil, another country yet to taste defeat, while second-placed Argentina will look to keep their momentum going at home to Ecuador.
On the face of it La Albirroja could hardly be in a better position as they head into this summit meeting. The unbeaten leaders boast the most potent strike force in the qualification campaign and the tightest defence. The reality is, though, that Gerardo Martino's side has failed to win in five outings since putting three past Chile last November, a worrying run that included defeats to Honduras and South Africa. Not that Brazil are in peak form at the moment either, having slumped to their first ever-defeat to Venezuela last weekend. Sunday's showdown offers both sides, still unbeaten in the tournament, with a shot at redemption, although the Brazilians know all about winning in Paraguay, having prevailed on four of their last six visits there.
Argentina will be keen to make immediate amends for last November's defeat in Colombia when they host Ecuador on Sunday. Surprisingly marooned in the bottom three, the visitors need to pick up points quickly, even if history suggests that might prove beyond them. El Tricolor have never won in Buenos Aires and if they are to achieve an historic victory they will need their nucleus of LDU Quito players to repeat their recent Copa Libertadores exploits, which include several wins over Argentinian sides.
The weekend's action begins in Montevideo, where Oscar Washington Tabarez's Uruguay take on Venezuela. Currently lying sixth, two points and one place behind their opponents on Saturday, La Celeste are intent on avenging the 3-0 defeat Los Vinotintos dished out on their visit to the Centenario in a Germany 2006 qualifier. The task facing them looks far from easy, however. Cesar Farias inspired his side to victory over Brazil in a friendly last week and the Venezuelans have already won on the road this term, a 1-0 opening-day defeat of Ecuador.
In Saturday's second game, Peru have the task of getting back on track in a daunting clash with Colombia, who remain unbeaten and have yet to concede a goal away from home. The signs are not promising for Jose Del Solar's side. On top of last week's 4-0 reverse in a friendly against Mexico, they will once again be without the suspended Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizarro, Santiago Acasiete and Andres Mendoza. Sitting pretty in fourth place, Los Cafeteros will be buoyed by their excellent recent record in Peru, which has seen them collect three qualifying wins in their last four visits, their one and only reverse in those games coming when Los Incaicos won 2-0 in a Spain 1982 qualifier back on 16 August 1981.
La Paz provides the setting for the final game of the weekend when bottom-placed Bolivia go in search of their first win of the campaign. Edwin Sanchez's charges receive a visit from Marcelo Bielsa's Chile in the first of two back-to-back home games that will go a long way to deciding their fate in the competition. Struggling in seventh, the Chileans have flattered to deceive so far, and will need to follow up their 2004 win at the Hernando Siles if they are to mount a serious challenge for one of the qualification slots.
Player to watch
Rising Ecuadorian star Joffre Guerron has had a busy few days. After helping LDU Quito reach the final of the Copa Libertadores, he jetted off to Spain to seal a move to Getafe before returning to Argentina for Sunday's vital qualifier. The 23-year-old striker is no stranger to the country, having spent some time in the youth ranks at Boca Juniors, and is anxious to help the Tricolor record their first win at the Estadio Monumental.
What they said
"We're not in a good position but the only way to get out of it is by beating Colombia. Now we'll really see if we're man enough and can turn the situation around. We're really fired up and we know we need to win on Saturday to keep our qualification hopes alive," Peru midfielder Norberto Solano analyses his side's precarious position.