MONTEVIDEO (AFP) - Brazil and Argentina will seek to close in on top spot this weekend in Latin American World Cup qualifiers with the samba stars travelling to Venezuela while the 'albiceleste' host neighbouring Uruguay.
The two giants, who between them have won seven World Cups, both stand four points behind surprise package Paraguay after eight matches but Brazil will expect to reduce the margin by claiming three points in San Cristobal on Sunday.
Olympic champions Argentina will have, on paper at least, a harder task to make short work of a Uruguayan side which, while not comparing to the World Cup-winning vintages of 1930 and 1950, nonetheless stands only a point behind their hosts.
A Uruguayan win would vault them to provisional second in the table and, having already dropped home points to the Paraguayans, Argentina - as well as, more alarmingly, to Ecuador - cannot take their visitors lightly as they seek to end a six-match run of draws.
Coach Alfio Basile is, if local media reports are to be believed, set to play three up front - Carlos Tevez, Leo Messi and Sergio Aguero - but leave Juan Roman Riquelme benched.
That is likely to be more a tactical choice than one of a personal nature - Boca Juniors star Riquelme was earlier this week described by Paraguayan clubmate Julio Cesar Caceres as being a "complicated person who is difficult to get on with."
The spat came with Boca having lost three of their last four matches.
Former Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze is set to feature alongside Nicolas Burdisso and Martin Demichelis despite an own goal against Paraguay, after which he was dropped.
Liverpool's midfield hardman Javier Mascherano will boss the engine room.
Brazil, having seen Argentina hold them to a goalless draw on home soil last June and then suffered the same result at home to modest Bolivia, have blown hot and cold in their matches but have managed to stay in touch.
Coach Dunga has to overcome injuries to Chelsea's Alex and Julio Baptista of Roma - their replacements are Hamburg defender Silva and Porto Alegre winger Alex - but should benefit from the return of star midfielder Kaka, the 2007 European footballer of the Year.
The AC Milan star's last qualifier was against Uruguay, in November 2007 prior to a knee injury which required surgery.
Porto Alegre's Alex said he was delighted to have made the squad.
"This is a childhood dream," the Brazilian Football Confederation quoted him as saying and explaining how his father predicted when he was just four that "one day you'll play for Brazil."
On hearing of his call up he phoned and told his father "Pop, you were right. I've got the call-up."
Only two of the Brazilians are home-based whereas five are playing in the English Premiership - midfielders Lucas of Liverpool, Anderson of Manchester Unite and Manchester City's Elano and City strikers Jo and Robinho.
Dunga has left out Kaka clubmate Ronaldinho, explaining that "Ronaldinho has not had enough time to improve with his new club. He is missing rhythm".
Dunga is expected to send out an attacking line-up with Kaka supporting Robinho and Inter Milan's Adriano.
Venezuela are in the bottom three and are five points off the fifth place which would mean a playoff against the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF zone for a backdoor World Cup finals berth in South Africa.
Paraguay's quest to hold on to their top spot has been hit by injury to Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz, who misses Saturday's trip to Colombia with a pulled leg muscle suffered in Saturday's 2-0 home defeat to Premiership champions Manchester United.
Eduardo Lara will be out to make a winning start as coach of the Colombians having replaced sacked Jorge Luis Pinto, fired after losses to Uruguay and Chile.
Colombia are presently sixth in the table after eight matches, three points adrift of the fourth and last automatic qualifying spot for the finals.
In a bottom of the table encounter Saturday, Bolivia will make Peru clamber up to high altitude at La Paz while Chile, level on points with Argentina and Brazil, will travel to an Ecuador side still in contention.
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