Argentina, Colombia set to seal Brazil berth
Argentina's Lionel Messi at a training session in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires, on Friday. Argentina and Colombia need only a point each to guarantee their places at the World Cup on Tuesday -- and more teams from South America could also confirm their tickets depending on results.
The Argentines travel to Asuncion to face resurgent Paraguay, who are all but mathematically eliminated despite recording a thumping 4-0 win over Bolivia in Friday's round of qualifiers.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella is without four first choice players following the bruising clash with Ecuador in June, with Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and defenders Federico Fernandez and Ezerquiel Garay suspended.
Argentina were 3-1 winners over the Paraguayans in their home fixture a year ago, and Paraguay, quarter-finalists at the 2010 World Cup, have had a miserable campaign which leaves them languishing second from bottom of the standings.
However, under new coach Victor Genes, the Paraguayans have shown signs of a recovery, securing a creditable 3-3 draw in a friendly with Germany in August before Friday's big win.
Paraguay's resurgence has probably come too late -- it would take an unlikely sequence of results elsewhere for them to scrape into contention for a play-off berth -- but they could well cause problems for Argentina on Tuesday.
"It will be a difficult match," Argentina captain Lionel Messi said. "But things have been going well for us and I hope we can continue in the same way."
Argentina's game against Paraguay is the last of four South American qualifiers to kick off on Tuesday. Argentina are already guaranteed at least a play-off spot but could be assured of automatic qualification before a ball is kicked in Asuncion if results elsewhere go their way.
Second-placed Colombia meanwhile face the trickiest test of any of the leading contenders when they travel to Montevideo to face two-time World Cup winners Uruguay.
The Uruguayans have struggled through the qualifying campaign but dug out a vital 2-1 victory over Peru in Lima last Friday thanks to two goals from their talismanic Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.
That result saw the 2010 World Cup semi-finalists tighten their grip on fifth place, and another three points against the highly rated Colombians would all but guarantee them at least a play-off spot.
Colombia all but secured a top-five finish after their 1-0 win over Ecuador in Barranquilla on Friday and look certain to be heading to their first World Cup since their appearance at the 1998 finals in France.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, fourth placed Ecuador travel to La Paz to face Bolivia in a high-altitude derby. A win for Ecuador would put them level on points with third placed Chile, who have a bye.
Venezuela and Peru meanwhile face a must-win game but depending on the results of Tuesday's earlier games involving fourth-placed Ecuador and fifth-placed Uruguay, their faint hopes may already have been extinguished.
The top four finishers in South America's qualifiers are guaranteed places at next year's finals in Brazil. The fifth placed team faces a two-legged play-off with their Asian counterpart, either Jordan or Uzbekistan.