A mere 15 months may have passed since the curtain came down on the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, but the trail towards world football's premier competition does not stay cold for long. This weekend all eyes will be on South America, where the first matchday of qualifying for South Africa 2010 is set to take place over Saturday and Sunday.
Read on as FIFA.com brings you the full list of exciting fixtures, which includes the standout clashes between Argentina-Chile and Colombia-Brazil. Follow all the action from both these games LIVE via the Emirates MatchCast, exclusive to FIFA.com.
After crashing to an emphatic 3-0 reverse against Brazil in the final of the Copa America 2007, Argentina will encounter a very familiar face as they return to competitive action in Buenos Aires. Coaching opponents Chile at the Estadio Monumental will be none other than former Albiceleste supremo, Marcelo Bielsa.
El Loco (The Crazy One), out of coaching since stepping down from the Argentina helm in September 2004, will be looking to end Basile's enviable record of winning the first match of every official competition during his two spells in charge of the two-time world champions.
The talking points: How will the home fans greet
Marcelo Bielsa? And what effect will three months without playing a
competitive match have on Juan Roman Riquelme's performance?
The showdown: Lionel Messi vs. Matias Fernandez.
The past: On 18 April 2007, Argentina and Chile drew 0-0 in a friendly played in the province of Mendoza.
The words: "This game is not about Argentina versus Bielsa. The ones who will decide the result are the players; the rest is just tactical embellishment." Alfio Basile, Argentina coach.
Having welcomed their star men back into the fold after claiming yet another continental crown, Dunga's Brazil travel to Bogota where they can expect a fiery welcome from the passionate Colombian fans. Their hosts are desperate to get off to a winning start in their bid to return to global football's top table for the first time since France 1998.
Auriverde are boosted by the returns of creators-in-chief
Ronaldinho and Kaka, while
Cafetero strategist Jorge Luis Pinto has put his faith in
a squad of largely young and up-and-coming footballers, sure to be
spurred on by a capacity home crowd.
The talking point: Brazil's players will need all their top-level experience to negate the fiercely partisan atmosphere generated by the Bogota crowd.
The showdown: Ronaldinho vs. Radamel Falcao Garcia.
The past: Colombia have not beaten Brazil since their 2-0 success on 19 July 1991 at that year's Copa America in Chile.
The words: "The qualifying phase is much tougher than the World Cup. Nobody else here speaks Portuguese and everyone is desperate to beat us." Carlos Dunga, Brazil coach.
More to come
The first round of qualifiers also includes three matches to be played on Saturday in Montevideo, Quito and Lima respectively. The Celeste, led by experienced coach Oscar Tabarez, host Erwin Sanchez's Bolivia in their opener. The visitors boast a dismal record on their travels, their last point away from home coming in a 1-1 draw in Peru in 2001.
Ecuador, who have kept faith in coach Luis Suarez, are unbeaten in ten qualifying matches at home in Quito and are determined to extend their run against Venezuela. Richard Paez's Vinotinto, for their part, aim to build on their displays at this year's Copa America, where they reached the quarter-finals for the very first time.
Saturday's final game is a step into the unknown for Peru coach Jose Chemo del Solar and his Paraguay counterpart Gerardo Martino, the match in Lima marking both men's first coaching venture in the hothouse atmosphere of South American qualifiers. The statistics from qualifying matches over the last ten years slightly favour the Peruvians, who boast three wins, one draw and two defeats against the Albirroja.