Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia have emerged
as the winners in the South American World Cup qualifiers so far,
while Uruguay are the evident losers.
The qualifiers are more than half-way as they enter a long break until March, and those who ended this first portion of the contest on a high note are likely to find it easier than others to stay focused and motivated.
Argentina remain top of the standings with 20 points from nine matches, well clear of Ecuador who are on 17. Colombia have 16 points and a game in hand, while Uruguay, Chile - also with a game in hand - and Venezuela all have 12 points. Bolivia and Peru are on eight points while Paraguay have seven.
The South American qualifiers grant four World Cup berths directly, plus the chance to earn a fifth in a play-off, and teams have to play 16 matches each. Brazil are qualified directly as 2014 tournament hosts.
Qualification so far has shown Argentina with captain Lionel Messi in command.
The superstar striker, arguably the world's best player, had conspicuously failed in the past to put on with the national team the kinds of impressive performances he is known for at Barcelona, but that seems to have changed. Messi has shown himself as a world-class player in the qualifiers so far, and Argentina are somewhat relieved.
While the Argentine defence still looks far from solid, an attacking line-up with Messi supported by Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria has amply proved it can make up for any mistakes at the back.
Ecuador have appeared very solid, particularly by winning their five qualifying matches at home so far. There remains a long road ahead, but they are very well-placed to return to a World Cup after missing South Africa 2010.
Colombia have surprised many with their performances, mainly by capitalizing on the outstanding form of striker Radamel Falcao. They too appear on track to return to a World Cup they have not played since 1998.
Beyond these, there are many doubts, although at least three other teams have good chances of making it to Brazil 2014 if they manage to redress their recent course.
Venezuela - the only country in South America where football is not the most popular sport and actually ranks far behind baseball among others - are fourth and hold hopes of getting to play the first World Cup in their history. But they have appeared unsteady on the pitch.
Uruguay, who came fourth in the 2010 World Cup and won last year's Copa America, are in an outright crisis. They seemed to be cruising towards Brazil 2014 not so long ago, but after picking up only one of the last 12 points at stake for them they are certainly not looking good.
The side led on the pitch by captain Diego Lugano and star strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez is clearly far from its best form. Fans are getting nervous, and calls are emerging for renovating the team.
Chile were also doing fairly well until they picked up three losses in a row, with coach Claudio Borghi now under fire.
Bolivia, Peru and, most surprisingly Paraguay - who have played the last four World Cups - appear by now to have very few chances of making it to Brazil 2014.
However, even last-placed Paraguay are only five points down from fourth-placed Venezuela. As Uruguay and Chile have shown conversely, a good run of results over the seven matches most teams are yet to play could potentially work wonders, and all teams will need to stay motivated and keep working hard.
The South American qualifiers are set to return in March, with the fixtures Argentina-Venezuela, Uruguay-Paraguay, Peru-Chile and Colombia-Bolivia.
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