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Six teams in search of two and a half places

SIX teams, including twice champions Argentina, will fight for two and a half places at the World Cup finals in the penultimate round of South American qualifiers on Saturday.

Argentina are currently fifth in the 10-nation group, from which the top four qualify automatically while the fifth goes into a playoff against the fourth-placed team from the North and Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region.

Failure to beat the already eliminated Peru at home would put Diego Maradona's team in serious danger of missing the finals for the first time since 1970. They play Uruguay away in their last qualifier on Oct. 14.

Ecuador are fourth, behind Brazil and Paraguay who have already qualified for next year's finals in South Africa and four points below third-placed Chile.

They are at home to Uruguay in Quito, with the advantage of being accustomed to the altitude at 2,850 metres above sea level.

"Here we have to make Quito count and show one plays in Quito with a lot of football, quick attacks and of course fighting spirit," coach Sixto Vizuete told reporters.

Uruguay, whose last World Cup was in 2002, are two points behind Ecuador, one behind Argentina, level with Venezuela and one ahead of Colombia and are mindful of the attacking nature of the Ecuadorians.

"They like to play a lot down the flanks which is where they have two very good players like (Antonio) Valencia and (Edison) Mendez, their best," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. "We'll plan to counter that and try to impose some things," he added.


Colombia are at home to Chile in Medellin hoping to delay the visitors' near certain qualification while gaining ground on Uruguay and Argentina.

Striker Jackson Martinez is in fine scoring form for league leaders Independiente Medellin and looking to add to the goal he scored there when Colombia beat Ecuador last month.

"My motivation is enormous given the good spell I'm having," Martinez said.

Chile, who will be without suspended forward Alexis Sanchez, are concerned about getting midfielder Matias Fernandez fully fit as both nations look to secure their place in the finals for the first time since 1998.

Venezuela, who have never reached the World Cup finals, host Paraguay, who have said they will treat the match as if they still needed the points and would like to win the group. They are three points behind Brazil.

"We have the calm that qualification gives you but we mustn't relax because we must get to the World Cup in the best form possible," said midfielder Jonathan Santana. "Time gets shorter and shorter and we need to prepare for that."

In Sunday's remaining qualifier, Brazil will field their strongest available team in La Paz even though hosts Bolivia have been eliminated and the match is being played at 3,600 metres.


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