South America officials didn't wait until the 2010 World Cup qualifying draw to begin the long road to the finals in South Africa, and they didn't waste time figuring out the schedule.
the 2010 qualifying schedule looks familiar to fans, it's because it is the same as was used for the 2002 and 2006 qualifiers!
That means Argentina hosts Chile Saturday and Brazil travels
to Colombia Sunday in this weekend's top matches.
Not only was the schedule the same for the last two qualifying tournaments, but the outcome was the same.
On both occasions,
the same four teams -- Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador -- qualified for the finals, while Uruguay finished fifth to earn a playoff against Australia.
CONMEBOL, the South America
confederation, resisted pressure from European clubs, who employ most of the best players, to change the format for 2010. That means 18 games played over the next 24 months.
all 10 teams compete in one pool for four automatic spots in the World Cup finals. The fifth-place team will face CONCACAF's fourth-place team in a playoff. The South American marathon kicks off with
the first of nine double fixtures this weekend and Wednesday.
(TV Note: Besides live and delayed coverage on GolTV, the South American qualifiers will also be available in theaters on closed circuit, on pay-per-view on
DISH Network and for a fee online at JUMPTV.)
Here's a look at this weekend's openers:
ARGENTINA-CHILE. Marcelo Bielsa, who coached Argentina for six years
and led it to the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, has taken over as Chile's coach for World Cup qualifying. Argentina coach Coco Basile has largely stuck with
the same team that finished second at this summer's Copa America. That means Juan Roman Riquelme should be in the starting lineup even though he hasn't yet
played since returning to Spanish club Villarreal from Boca Juniors.
URUGUAY-BOLIVIA (GolTV, live, 2:30 pm ET). D.C. United's Jaime Moreno has joined Bolivia, which also features former MLS midfielder Jocelito Vaca. Luis Suarez, the 20-year-old Ajax striker, is expected to line up in a three-man frontline for Uruguay along with
Diego Forlan and Sebastian Abreu.
ECUADOR-VENEZUELA. Ecuador and
Venezuela are coached by Luis Fernando Suarez and Richard Paez, respectively. They are the only two coaches to have
survived since the end of the previous qualifiers two years ago. Ecuador will be led by 33-year-old Ivan Hurtado, who will be taking part in his fifth qualifying tournament.
PERU-PARAGUAY. Indicative of the complications of getting players back for qualifying, Peru coach Jose del Solar called up players
playing on clubs in 13 different countries -- 10 of them in Europe. Roque Santa Cruz, who played so well for Paraguay at the Copa America, is out with a knee
injury and unavailable for the match.
COLOMBIA-BRAZIL. The big question for Brazil concerns Coach Dunga's choice
for center forward. With Ronaldo and Adriano out of the picture, Fred was the
obvious choice, but he is injured. That leaves No. 4 and No. 5 choices Vagner Love and Afonso Alves as the leading
candidates. Neither has sparkled in a Brazil uniform. Vagner Love, who plays for CSKA Moscow, has three goals in 17 games. Afonso, who scored seven goals last Sunday for Dutch club Heerenveen, has
scored one goal in seven games.