The South American qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ reaches its halfway point this week with a potentially defining ninth round of fixtures. With four crucial match-ups on the bill, including the latest meeting between old rivals Argentina and Uruguay, Friday night’s results promise to shake up the table in a big way. Join as we preview all the action.

The big game
Friday 12 October, Mendoza, 21.00 (local time)
Argentina and Uruguay, the two most prolific sides in the section with 15 goals each, go head-to-head in Mendoza in the latest edition of the region’s oldest derby. The Albiceleste, unbeaten since matchday two, are out to avenge their 2011 Copa America exit at the hands of Los Charrúas, and are boosted by Sergio Aguero’s return in attack alongside Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.

Uruguay, however, are smarting from a disappointing run of results, and will be determined to restore some pride with an away victory over their old foes. The South American champions, though, have several players missing through injury and suspension, with coach Oscar Tabarez unable to call upon Diego Perez, Alvaro Pereira, Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez.

Jose Pekerman’s Colombia, the stand-out side in the September round of qualifiers, host Paraguay in Barranquilla on the back of comfortable wins over Uruguay and Chile. Los Cafeteros, with their attacking trident of James Rodriguez, Teofilo Gutierrez and Radamel Falcao, will be keen to extend their winning run against struggling Paraguay, who have suffered four straight defeats and lie bottom of the table. “Defeat would all but end our chances of reaching the World Cup, but a win will send our motivation soaring,” said Paraguay forward Edgar Benitez.

Ecuador will be without Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia for the visit of Chile as they look to secure their fifth straight home victory in the qualifying tournament. The Chileans, for their part, travel to Quito in search of an historic first victory in the city. “We cannot be complacent,” Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda told “As we’re up against a really tough side who are very good on the counter-attack, and who know how to get the job done.” Indeed, La Roja, currently in the play-off spot, beat Bolivia and Venezuela in their last two trips away from Santiago.

Elsewhere, in La Paz, the stakes are high as Bolivia and Peru look to climb out of the lower reaches of the table and back into contention for a finals spot. Sergio Markarian’s Peru took a win and a draw from their pair of qualifiers in September, and the visitors need a further three points to keep alive their hopes of returning to the finals for the first time in 30 years.

For Bolivia, however, the need for victory is every bit as pressing, and the hosts know that their fate hinges on their next two home games. “It’s all or nothing – we have to win,” said Marcelo Martins, who is expected to continue in attack for the home side. “These two games will show whether or not we deserve to go to the World Cup.”

Player to watch
Claudio Pizarro (PER)
The Peru captain will be hoping to bounce back after taking heavy criticism for missing a penalty in his side’s most recent qualifier against Argentina. “I know how to deal with these kinds of situations; they don’t worry me,” Pizarro, the Bundesliga’s all-time leading foreign goal-scorer, told recently. The 34-year-old still dreams of playing at a FIFA World Cup, and the outcome of Peru’s clash with Bolivia will go a long way to deciding whether or not that dream comes true.

Did you know?
Ecuador are the only team in South American qualifying with a 100 per cent home record, and the only side in the section yet to concede on home turf. The last time they shipped a goal at home was way back on 10 October 2009, a Diego Forlan penalty in the 93' minute of a loss to Uruguay.

What they said
“Argentina are currently the best team in the qualifying tournament; the team that has achieved the most. Their coach has succeeded in doing something that I know is not easy: he has stabilised the squad and has a starting XI who know each other extremely well. We will need to be wary of their great attacking threat,” Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez.

Matches - Round Nine
12 October - Friday

Bolivia - Peru
Colombia - Paraguay
Ecuador - Chile
Argentina - Uruguay

*Off: Venezuela