With eight rounds completed in South America's World Cup qualifiers, it now
seems clear that the campaign contains two separate competitions.
Argentina are coasting through World Cup qualifying
Brazil and Argentina can use the remaining 10 rounds to prepare their team
for Germany 2006.
Meanwhile, the other eight nations are caught up in a
fierce fight to get on the plane.
This might appear as a statement of the obvious.
Brazil and Argentina are
South America's acknowledged big two - the only teams who are feared
But outside the continent it is easy to underestimate the difficulties of
getting through qualification in South America.
The likes of Chile and Peru
may not be global powers but at home and in front of a packed stadium they are
not an easy match for anyone.
The geography of South America makes life
difficult for the away sides - vast distances mean long hours of travel and
huge temperature differences.
Then there is the aspect of altitude.
There is no such thing as an easy away game in South America's World
Bolivia and Ecuador are rarely beaten in their mountain strongholds.
Europe, there is no such thing as an easy away game in South America's World
It is worth remembering that Peru stopped Argentina making it to the 1970
Lightning very nearly struck twice in 1986, a tournament
Argentina went on to win.
Brazil had huge problems getting through to the
World Cups of 1994 and 2002 - both times they ended up as champions.
last qualifying campaign they lost six of their nine away games.
In comparison, the current campaign is more of a serene stroll.
they lurched from crisis to crisis, using four coaches and a staggering 62
players in their 18 games.
Parreira has the opportunity to develop his Brazil squad
At times they were so desperate they would have
liked to play all 62 at once.
In the eight rounds of this campaign they have used 26 players - as coach Carlos
Alberto Parreira gently goes about dismantling the 2002 team and introducing
the latest products of Brazil's ever-active production line.
Parreira can plan with his sights on Germany and, after the weekend's action, Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa would seem to be in the same happy position.
Unforgiven for the 2002 World Cup flop, Bielsa has come in for vicious
treatment from supporters in Buenos Aires.
Local FA boss Julio Grondona would
have made himself very popular by sacking Bielsa and replacing him with the
peoples' choice, Carlos Bianchi.
But Bielsa has hit back - first with the fine football of his team in the
Copa America, then with the Olympic title and now with Saturday's 3-1 win
away to Peru.
The victory in Lima would seem to be the clincher.
things go badly wrong it is hard to see Bielsa being replaced before the
next World Cup.
With qualification looking a relative formality, it means that next year's
Confederations Cup takes on extra importance for Brazil and Argentina.
competition will give them the chance to test their teams, under European
conditions, against worldwide opposition.
It is even better preparation for
the World Cup than the qualifiers.
And Brazil have an early chance to taste the atmosphere when they travel to take
on Germany in a friendly this Wednesday.