Can Neymar help Brazil to a sixth World Cup title?
The final round of World Cup qualifying matches in South America is set to get under way this Friday with some games taking on huge importance in the race for a place at Brazil 2014.
Argentina are already qualified, but what of the teams right behind them? Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela sit second to sixth, respectively, all harbouring hopes of reaching next year's World Cup hosted by their overbearing neighbour, Brazil.
So what better time than now to look at a power ranking of South American nations? Instead of simply using the qualification table as an indicator, we are going to do things a little more thoroughly. Three criteria will help rank all South American nations:
- History: How many trophies has each nation won? A World Cup will weigh far more heavily than a Copa America crown.
- Present day: What is the make up of the current squad and how strong do the country look eight months before a ball is kicked at the World Cup?
- Future: Upon reaching a World Cup, how would the country realistically fare?
Juan Arango could captain Venezuela to their first ever World Cup
VENEZUELA – The only South American nation to have never played a World Cup. They currently sit sixth in qualifying with an outside chance of reaching Brazil. No Copa America titles.
Present day squad? Unity and graft over individual talent has brought the nation to within touching distance of the World Cup. Victory at home to Paraguay on Friday is an absolute must.
Future? Bright. Celebration scenes would be huge should Venezuela make their World Cup bow in June.
Flamengo's Marcelo Moreno has been inconsistent at international level
BOLIVIA – Three World Cup appearances and a 1963 Copa America crown.
Present day squad? Reliant almost entirely on home based players. Flamengo's Marcelo Moreno can be dangerous on his day, but inconsistency at international level is a drawback.
Future? Next to bottom in qualification; hard to see where Bolivia go from here.
Paolo Guerrero's injury problems have hindered Peru
PERU – Four World Cup showings and two Copa America titles, but no chance of playing at the next World Cup. Last appearance was in 1982.
Present day squad? When fit, Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfan are the side's goal outlet. Successive injuries and a hampered midfield weakened the country's chances of a fifth World Cup dispute.
Future? The 2015 Copa America, to be held in Chile.
Antonio Valencia (right) is Ecuador's captain
ECUADOR – Only two World Cup showings, but they were both recently, in 2002 and 2006. Yet to win the Copa America. Currently sit fourth in qualifying with mammoth games home to Uruguay and away to Chile to come.
Present day squad? No doubt the star man is captain Antonio Valencia. On his day, Jefferson Montero is a force to be reckoned with, but altitude is also a massive factor in their high qualifying position. Quito is 2,800m above sea level.
Future? The next week will be enormously important for Ecuador in deciding their World Cup destiny. Should they make it, a lack of depth will probably mean another group stage exit.
Falcao's firepower should take Colombia to the World Cup in Brazil
COLOMBIA – A relative novice on the World Cup stage, having only qualified four times and only making it past the first round once, in 1990. They sit second in this qualification group and are odds-on to reach Brazil. Won the 2001 Copa America.
Present day squad? Their two most dangerous players, James Rodriquez and Radamel Falcao, have both joined Monaco. If they develop a sound understanding during the season, Colombia could reap the benefits in Brazil.
Future? Almost certain to qualify, but their lack of big tournament experience could mean another early exit.
Roque Santa Cruz (left) is the spearhead of an ageing Paraguay side
PARAGUAY – Paraguay's history drags them up the ranking despite the fact they will not be in Brazil next year. Eight World Cup showings and two Copa America titles help them up to fifth.
Present day squad? Ageing. The golden generation of Cristian Riveros, Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo is passing.
Future? Need to go back to the drawing board under new coach Victor Genes.
The pace of Alexis Sanchez (center) is one of Chile's most dangerous weapons
CHILE – Chile have made eight World Cup appearances, their best finish being third in 1962 when they were hosts. The country has never won the Copa America.
Present day squad? Coach Jorge Sampaoli is one of the most respected names in South America after working wonders with Universidad de Chile, whom he led to the Copa Sul-Americana title in 2011. The side is dangerous on the counter, a philosophy instilled during Marcelo Bielsa's reign. The playmaking pair of Valdivia and David Pizarro can provide for a dangerous attack of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, both blessed with pace. The team have two cup finals against Colombia and Ecuador to decide their World Cup fate.
Future? Could repeat their 2010 performance and reach the second round.
Luiz Suarez (right) is one of the hottest strikers on the planet
URUGUAY – The first football powerhouse during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ururguay have played at 11 World Cups. They are two-time World Champions, but their last win was in 1950. Uruguay also have 14 continental titles and are reigning South American champions after winning the 2011 Copa America.
Present day squad? Uruguay have arguably the two hottest strikers on the planet in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Whilst Diego Lugano looked lethargic at times during the Confederations Cup, his experience and leadership would be invaluable should Uruguay make it to Brazil.
Future? Uruguay have struggled during qualification as their first-choice team begins to show signs of age. They have a crunch tie against Ecuador on Friday before hosting an already qualified Argentina next week. Should they reach the World Cup, a quarter-final place should not be beyond them.
Four time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi will lead Argnetina's attempt to upset Brazil
ARGENTINA – Argentina have clocked up 15 World Cup appearances and, like Uruguay, have twice been crowned World Champions along with two runners-up. Again identical to their neighbours Argentina are 14-time continental champions but have not won the Copa America in 20 years, their last success coming in 1993.
Present day squad? Argentina have an embarrassment of riches in the attacking sector and could fill three teams with the forwards at their disposal. The fact that the likes of PSG front man Javier Pastore can't get a look in tells its own story. With a preferred front three of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, coach Alejandro Sabella can also call on Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi or Ignacio Scocco should injuries deplete his numbers.
Future? Any team with a four-time World Player of the Year has a chance. Argentina could repeat Uruguay's accomplishment of 1950's Fateful Final, upsetting Brazil at the Maracana. Now wouldn't that be something?
Luiz Felipe Scolari has found the right balance to his Brazil side
BRAZIL – The undisputed best. Five World Cup titles to their name and two more finals appearances. Counting the South American championship and the Copa America, the Selecao has eight triumphs, including four in a decade between 1997 and 2007.
Present day squad? Despite not being the most exciting Brazil squad of the last 20 years, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has found a balance that eluded predecessor Mano Menezes. Goalkeeper is arguably still a weak spot, but defence, holding and attacking midfield are all well covered. However, the side still lacks a definitive no. 9. Right now it is a toss up between Fred and Jo, neither of whom are likely to strike fear into the world's top defenders.
Future? Can and must win the World Cup. As hosts, there is more pressure than ever on the national side.