When it comes to World Cup qualifying, nothing compares to the level of excitement on display in South America. For years the quality of the competition has been world-class, and this edition has been no different. As we approach the midway stage of the South American marathon World Cup qualifying campaign, all 10 teams are still alive and vying for a spot in South Africa 2010.
Traditional powers Brazil and Argentina, who have won a combined seven World Cups, have struggled to find consistency so far, mostly because of the quality of the competition they have faced. While Paraguay leads the group in style, several other teams have also demonstrated the determination needed to warrant a World Cup berth.
Here's a brief guide of what we can look forward to in the next two rounds of the 2010 South American World Cup qualifiers.
Argentina is in a must-win situation at home against Uruguay in the latest edition of el clásico rioplatense, a derby that dates back to 1901, when Argentina beat Uruguay 3-2 in Montevideo. Los Albicelestes haven't managed a win in their last five World Cup qualifiers and will be desperate to end the drought against their geographical neighbors on Saturday. The outcome of the match will likely determine Argentina head coach
Uruguay, on the other hand, come into the clash undefeated in its last four matches and seems more than capable of upsetting the highly fancied Argentines at El Monumental.
Brazil may be in second place and only four points behind group leader Paraguay, but its campaign has been largely disappointing so far. Last month the Seleção picked up a massive 3-0 win over Chile in Santiago, but just a few days later it could only manage a goalless draw with Bolivia at home, despite playing with an extra man for almost the entire second half. It was one of Brazil's worst displays in years. After, further pressure mounted on head coach
Dunga has selected a relatively similar squad to the one from last month.
After several years of hard work, Paraguay has finally become the leading nation on the continent. The highly disciplined Paraguayans have won five of their first eight qualifiers and lead the group in style. Unlike Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, Paraguay has found consistency as well as an effective game plan. Last month La Albirroja held Argentina to a tight 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires without many of its key players, and then made light work of Venezuela in a comfortable 2-0 win in Asunción. Both results highlighted the amount of depth the Paraguayan squad has. Over the years, Paraguay has been characterized by a strong defense, and while this still remains the case, the squad has also improved its attacking a great deal and leads the competition with 16 goals.
Paraguay will hope to move closer toward World Cup qualification when it faces Colombia at El Campín de Bogotá, a venue which stands at 2,650 meters above sea level. Colombia has struggled to make an impact in this edition of the qualifiers, and comes into the clash after a heavy 4-0 defeat to Chile -- a result which led to
Five-time World Champions Brazil will receive a boost when FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká returns. The gifted AC Milan attacking midfielder has missed Brazil's last eight matches after undergoing surgery on a damaged left knee, but is fully fit and will surely solve Brazil's problems in the attacking third. Adriano is another player who could make a difference. "The Emperor" has finally rediscovered his top form with Inter Milan this season and will be looking to return to the national team with a bang.
Other potential stand-out performers include