by NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
After this weekend's 11th round of World Cup qualifiers in South America, which resulted in a shift in occupancy of some places in the standings, the 12th round gets underway immediately with the top half of the table looking tighter.
Chile and Argentina, with their respective wins, surpassed Brazil for a second-place tie while Uruguay still retains fifth place following their win over leaders Paraguay. However, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela are still very much in contention to fight for that last playoff spot against CONCACAF's fourth-place team. Bolivia and Peru are only playing for honor now with seven rounds left.
Here is a look at CONMEBOL's 12th round of World Cup qualifiers:
VENEZUELA v. COLOMBIA 8:30PM ET
Colombia revived its aspirations for its first World Cup appearance since France '98 with a much-needed 2-0 win at home against Bolivia and a victory in Venezuela would inch Colombia closer to a battle for fifth place.
The Cafeteros will be missing Fabian Vargas (Boca Juniors) and Wason Renteria (Braga) due to suspension, which will force manager Eduardo Lara to change his game plan to something similar he implemented at Brazil last year. Apparently, the coach is anticipating a Venezuela raid.
The Vinotinto, coming off of a 4-0 loss in Argentina, will be without Jorge Rojas (Red Bull New York) and former RBNY player Gabriel Cichero (Caracas), both of whom are out for yellows. The Venezuelans will look to solidify an offensive attack by starting Giancarlo Maldonado (Atlante, Mexico) and Alejandro Moreno (Colombus Crew) for a much-needed three points.
BOLIVIA v. ARGENTINA 3:30PM ET
Bolivia will hope to take advantage of the high altitude of its capital city when they host the Argentines, who plan to jet in on the same day of the match.
Bolivian manager Erwin 'Platini' Sanchez plans to make seven changes to the lineup that lost to Colombia 2-0 with former MLS player Joselito Vaca (Oriente Petrolero, Bolivia), Luis Gutierrez (Destroyers, Bolivia) and Jose Castillo (Petrolero) out for yellows.
Argentina has a full lineup ready for the match in La Paz and veteran Javier Zanetti (Inter), who got his 130th international cap in the Venezuela win, said his teammates are ready to adjust to the altitude accordingly.
Bolivia, sitting in ninth place in the 10-team table, would surprise many with a win but the potency of Argentina's depth and attack should be too much for them.
ECUADOR v. PARAGUAY 5:20PM ET
Paraguay will look to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in this cycle's campaign when they travel to Quito to visit Ecuador, who will enjoy the luxury of hosting another match.
The Ecuadoreans needed an 88th minute equalizer to draw Brazil even though they thoroughly dominated the match but were thwarted by Brazil's goalie Julio Cesar (Inter) as well as missed opportunities.
Paraguay, who lost 2-0 in Uruguay, still lead the table but won't have Julio Caceres (Boca Juniors) due to injury and Nelson Haeod (Borussia Dortmund), who can't play in high altitude.
Ecuador will be without speedy midfielder Walter Ayovi (Monterrey) due to suspension but will have most of its players that faced Brazil.
CHILE v. URUGUAY 7:10PM ET
This is the match of the round.
Chile, coming off of a historic 3-1 in in Peru will look to climb up the table even further and assure its fans that South Africa is on the horizon when they host Uruguay.
The Chileans could have feasted on more goals in Lima against a poor Peruvian side but didn't capitalize on their chances. The win was their first on Peruvian soil in 24 years.
Wonderkid Alexis Sanchez (Udinese) toyed with the Peruvian defense and showed why he is the subject of transfer rumors by Europe's heavyweights.
Meanwhile, Uruguay will hope to continue its momentum after its home victory against Paraguay. And the Uruguayans are aware that this match against Chile would assure it of battling for one of four direct berths should it win. The Charruas are fiddling with their lineup because of injury concerns.
BRAZIL v. PERU 9:10PM ET
This one could get ugly.
The Brazilians, always under pressure to not only win but to look good doing it, will host a weak Peruvian side that is currently in its worst crisis in history.
Brazil was thorough pressured by Ecuador in Quito on Sunday and has goalie Julio Cesar to thank for some fine keeping that ended in a 1-1 tie. The five-time world champions will be hungry in front of their crowd, especially after dropping to fourth place in the standings this weekend.
That doesn't bode well for Peru, who are missing a majority of their stars. Now the Peruvians can add Juan Vargas (Fiorentina) to the list. Vargas was shown the red on Sunday after one of his worst performances in a Peru shirt, giving away a rookie-like penalty and being out-shined by Chile's Alexis Sanchez.
Without much depth and a grasp on the realities of Peru's soccer system, captain Nolberto Solano conceded that the team should look towards the 2018 World Cup as a realistic target to qualify.
What did you think of this weekend's games? Who do you see grabbing the fifth spot to play CONCACAF's fourth-placed team? Are these qualifiers the most difficult on the planet?