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.