Uruguay's play-off win over Costa Rica was the last act in a South American qualifying tournament that began back in October 2007, and means that the region will now be represented by five teams at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The four other sides qualified in contrasting fashion. Brazil sauntered through in first place, while a revitalised Chile and the ultra-consistent Paraguay both impressed in finishing second and third respectively. As for Argentina, a difficult campaign very nearly ended in disaster. FIFA.com reviews the performances of the Zone's five qualifiers.
Top dogs again
Not for the first time Brazil ran out section winners. With coach Dunga bringing his winning mentality to bear throughout a virtually seamless transitional phase, A Seleção underlined just why they have won the last two Copa America competitions and the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. The five-time world champions gave next to nothing away at the back, and though they needed a little time to find their range up front, Luis Fabiano ultimately showed that the No9 jersey is his for the foreseeable future. With Kaka continuing to supply the bullets, the Brazilians outgunned their regional rivals yet again, and maintained their record of never having missed out on a place at the FIFA World Cup™ finals.
The steadying hand of Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa and an exciting new generation of players inspired Chile to second place and their best-ever qualifying campaign. Along with Paraguay, La Roja won more games than anyone else in the group and were the second highest scorers behind Brazil. Boasting the youngest squad on the continent, the Chileans are back in the big time after failing to reach Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006. And in collecting 16 points away from home, they displayed a refreshing attacking approach in even the most hostile of arenas.
In checking into the finals for the third time running, Paraguay revealed a potent offensive threat to complement their customary strengths at the back. Fired by one of the best attacks in South America, La Albirroja broke through the 30-point barrier for the first time and stayed in the upper echelons of the table after making a fast start to the competition. Though Gerardo Martino's men lost impetus at the end, going four games without a win, they still qualified comfortably enough in third.
An almighty struggle
Argentina heaved themselves over the line at the very end of a campaign that generated more questions than answers. Taking over coaching duties from Alfio Basile on Matchday 11, national idol Diego Maradona endured several buffeting blows, not least a disastrous 6-1 defeat in Bolivia and a 3-1 reverse at home to arch-enemies Brazil. Yet, just when it looked as if they might slip out of the reckoning altogether, La Albiceleste conjured up a last-minute winner against Peru and then recorded a maiden win at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo to make sure of their place. That defeat did not prove too damaging for Uruguay, who overcame Costa Rica after being consigned to the play-offs for the third time in a row.
Stars of the show
Aside from established stars such as Lionel Messi and Kaka, a host of other players lit up the South American qualifying competition. Uruguay were indebted to the finishing prowess of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez’s dashing performances, while the Paraguayans have a lethal goalgetter of their own in Salvador Cabanas. Chile's surge to the finals was inspired by the irrepressible Alexis Sanchez and the ever-sharp Humberto Suazo. Nilmar and Luis Fabiano took up the goalscoring mantle for Brazil, who were ably served by goalkeeper Julio Cesar and defensive midfielder Felipe Melo, two of the most lauded players in the tournament. Elsewhere, Venezuela's Giancarlo Maldonado and Bolivia's strike tandem of Marcelo Martins and Joaquin Botero can be pleased with their efforts up front.
What they said
"From the bottom of my heart I'd like to dedicate our qualification to the people of Argentina, and only to them, to the people who believed in me. There is certain section of people who don't deserve it, though, and they know very well who they are. I remember these things. For the people who didn't believe in this team, for the people who treated me like rubbish, I have one thing to say: Today we are in the World Cup." Argentina coach Diego Maradona reacts to his side's defeat of Uruguay, the prelude to his much-commented message to the national press.
5 – Nilmar's lucky number. The Brazilian striker made five appearances during the qualifying competition and scored five goals, a hugely impressive return that underlines the strength in depth of the men in yellow and green.
*Qualified via the CONMEBOL-CONCACAF play-off
10 - Humberto Suazo (CHI)
9 - Luis Fabiano (BRA)
8 - Joaquin Botero (BOL)
7 - Diego Forlan (URU), Marcelo Martins (BOL)
6 - Salvador Cabanas (PAR), Giancarlo Maldonado (VEN), Sebastian Abreu (URU)
5 - Nilmar (BRA), Kaka (BRA)