South America: Familiar story is unfolding
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 13 (Reuters) - A familiar story is unfolding in South America where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil already look set to qualify for the World Cup leaving Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile and Colombia to fight for the remaining places.
The region's qualifying competition is using the same system as for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, with even the fixture list unchanged, and is threatening to produce a similar result for the third time in a row.
On both occasions, Argentina, Brazil Paraguay and Ecuador have taken the four direct places while Uruguay have finished fifth, edging out Colombia each time, to earn a playoff against a side from another confederation.
The marathon campaign, in which the 10 teams play each other twice in a single group, reached the halfway mark on Sunday with only Chile, who are fourth, threatening to alter the routine.
Leaders Paraguay, who have won six and drawn two of their nine matches, have an excellent chance to continue their progress towards the 2010 finals in South Africa when they host table-propping Peru in Asuncion on Wednesday.
Paraguay, one of the few teams who have managed to keep almost the same line-up throughout, have no injuries or suspensions apart from striker Roque Santa Cruz.
Nolberto Solano returns for Peru, who were once one of the continent's most attractive sides but have not qualified since 1982 and, with only seven points, already appear to be out of the running with nine matches to play.
Brazil, four points behind Paraguay on 16 points, are at home to a Colombian side who have lost their last three games without scoring, have managed only four goals all told and have dropped to seventh with 10 points.
Brazil host the Colombians in Rio de Janeiro, where they were held to a goalless draw by Bolivia a month ago.
But the return of Kaka after an 11-month absence has given Brazil an instant boost as he scored in their 4-0 win in Venezuela on Sunday.
Argentina, level on points with Brazil, visit a Chilean team who are led by their former coach Marcelo Bielsa and have lost two of their three first-choice defenders through suspension.
Chile, who have 13 points, had Ismael Fuentes and Gonzalo Jara both sent off in Sunday's 2-0 defeat in Ecuador while midfielder Roberto Cereceda and forward Alexis Sanchez each picked up a yellow card.
"We have a consolidated group which allows us to imagine that the ones who come in will maintain the level of efficiency of those who have been playing," said Bielsa.
Ecuador, back in the race with 12 points after Sunday's win, visit Venezuela, who made a bright start to their campaign but have taken only one point in their last five games since Cesar Farias replaced Richard Paez as coach.
Uruguay, who have 12 points after losing to Argentina on Saturday, face Bolivia in La Paz 3,600 metres above sea level in the only match to be played on Tuesday.