Having succumbed to only their second home defeat in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying history against Brazil on Saturday, Argentina face a make-or-break trip to Paraguay on Wednesday.
The 3-1 loss to Dunga's side, who are now assured of a place at the 2010 finals in South Africa, left two-time world champions Argentina in the fourth and last automatic qualifying place in the South American standings. Paraguay are five points above them in third and need just three points to qualify for the finals after a qualification campaign that has defied all expectations.
Argentina, meanwhile, have not won on the road in a competitive match since a 2-0 victory in Venezuela in October 2007 and have scored a meagre three goals in the intervening six away fixtures. Should an Argentine defeat be accompanied by away wins for Ecuador, in Bolivia, and Colombia, in Uruguay, Diego Maradona's men will drop to sixth, below even a qualifying place for the play-off against the fourth-best side from the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone (CONCACAF).
"I'm feeling composed. There's no cause for alarm," said Maradona, who was part of the Argentina side that came through a play-off against Australia to qualify for the 1994 tournament. "It won't be easy to go to Paraguay, but we'll see what solutions we can find for our problems and try and take the three points. We had to beat Brazil and we lost. There's no time for feeling sorry for yourself, though. You have to keep looking forward."
Goalkeeper Mariano Andujar echoed his manager's upbeat outlook. "This isn't over," he said. "We need to pick ourselves up quickly because we have another final coming up. It's not over and it's still in our hands."
It won't be easy to go to Paraguay, but we'll see what solutions we can find for our problems and try and take the three points.
Paraguay and Chile each require just a win to guarantee qualification, but if Colombia and Ecuador both lose they will qualify regardless. "We're there now, I can feel it," said Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino after their 1-0 win over Bolivia in Asuncion at the weekend. "We've taken a gigantic step thanks to this really important win."
Qualification for Chile would guarantee the presence of at least one Argentinian in South Africa next summer, with Marcelo Bielsa hoping for a second crack at FIFA World Cup glory after leading his native Argentina to a group-stage exit in 2002. The philosophical 54-year-old has revolutionised the Chilean set-up since taking over in 2007 and midfielder Jorge Valdivia believes the team owe all their success to the Rosario-born tactician.
"He is humble and says all the credit should go to the players, but he changed everything: the group discipline, the condition of the training camp, the way the other teams look at us," said Valdivia.
Chile's meeting with Brazil in Salvador De Bahia is sure to have a celebratory air following the home side's historic victory over sworn enemies Argentina, but Selecao captain Lucio says they cannot afford to slacken off. "The most important thing is that we've kept on winning, we're through to the finals and we can take the time now to work on a few things before the World Cup," said the Inter Milan centre-back.
With three matches remaining, only rock-bottom Peru stand no chance of finishing in the top five, although second-bottom Bolivia have an eight-point deficit to make up on fifth-placed Colombia in the play-off berth. Wednesday's matches represent something of a last-chance saloon for seventh-placed Uruguay and eight-placed Venezuela, who host Peru, but victory for either side could put them back into the qualifying mix.