Matchday 11 of the South American qualifiers is just hours away, with a host of delectable sub-plots adding emotion and intensity to what could be a pivotal weekend in the race for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Here to mark your card, as always, is

The big game
Saturday 28 March, 17.00 (local time), Montevideo (Estadio Centenario)

Despite a comfortable cushion at the top of the table, Paraguay will be taking nothing for granted at Montevideo's mythical Estadio Centenario, where Oscar Tabarez's dangerous Uruguay side await them. The Celeste, currently fifth in the ten-team group, will be optimistic about their chances having top-scored so far in this campaign. The Albirroja, for their part, have the second-best defence in the group and will be hoping to add to their impressive points tally and close in on qualification.

This will be the sides' tenth meeting in this competition, with Paraguay boasting seven wins to their neighbour's two. The Guaraníes will have their work cut out to extend that sequence this Saturday, however, given the Charrúas have not lost at home since a 3-1 defeat by Peru on 1 June 2004.

In Buenos Aires, tickets to see Diego Maradona's competitive coaching debut at home to Venezuela were snapped up in a matter of hours. Expectations are understandably high, not least because the hosts have won their 15 previous meetings with the Vinotinto. Cesar Farias' men will surely need something special to cause an upset, given that the Albiceleste have lost just once in 47 home games in FIFA World Cup qualifying, an infamous 5-0 reverse to Colombia way back in September 1993.

Another fixture sure to set pulses racing this weekend is the Clásico del Pacífico between Peru and Chile. Jose Del Solar's side are currently propping up the table and know this is their last chance to resuscitate their slim qualification hopes. Marcelo Bielsa's visiting Chilean side, meanwhile, occupy fourth spot and would dearly love another three points to strengthen their hold on the last direct qualifying berth. History favours the home side, however, with La Roja having won just once in their six visits here in this competition.

Further north, Brazil go in search of their first qualifying win in Quito against Sixto Vizuete's resurgent Ecuador. Not only have the five-time world champions lost two and drawn one of their previous three visits here, but they have yet to score a goal. La Tricolor are presently in sixth spot and need all three points to keep their dream of a third consecutive finals alive. But can they prevail against a team that only recently brushed aside world champions Italy?

Not dissimilar is the task facing Bolivia, who travel to Colombia. Erwin Sanchez's side have never won or even scored on Cafetero soil, a blemish they will be hoping to put right against a side that has managed just four goals in the campaign thus far. Both teams are some way off the pace at present, but a win for either would keep their hopes alive heading into the final third of the campaign.

Player to watch
Lionel Messi (ARG)
After Juan Roman Riquelme's decision to retire from international football, creative duties for the Albiceleste fall squarely on the shoulders of the Barcelona ace. Can he bring his dazzling club form to the international stage this weekend against Venezuela?

The stat
532 - The number of minutes Colombia have gone without scoring in official games. Their last goal came against Peru on 14 June 2008 courtesy of Hugo Rodallega, a predicament the Cafeteros will need to rectify quickly to join the world's elite at South Africa 2010.

What they said
"Brazil have star players who shine in Europe but don't always play well collectively. In terms of tactics and playing as a team, we're ahead of them. I feel we have a balanced and united group and are capable of beating them," Sixto Vizuete, Ecuador coach.

The fixtures

Saturday 28

Sunday 29