On Tuesday, Japan became the first team to qualify for the Brazil 2014 World Cup thanks to a 1-1 draw with Australia. This Friday, teams from Central and South America will have a chance to work towards that same goal. There are seven matches –four from CONMEBOL and three from CONCACAF—that are set to raise the hopes or cause an overall gloom in 14 nations. Here are the games: What to watch for, and where to watch them (home team is mentioned first)
Argentina vs. Colombia (6:00 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT)
On paper, this is probably the most interesting match of the day. Celebrated Brazilian defender Cafú called it "a duel between giants," and there is reason for it. Argentina comfortably leads South America's qualifying race, but Colombia is not far behind. For Colombians, the game, which will be played at River's Estadio Monumental de Núñez, brings back memories of 1993's unforgettable 5-0 win over the "Albiceleste." Enthusiasm is high in both countries, given the remarkable conditions of several of its players. Watch out for Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez in Colombia. In Argentina, keep your eyes on Messi, if he does play (he is coming out of an injury that forced him to miss on Barcelona's last games), or on his replacement, Santos' Walter Montillo.
Panamá vs. México (10:05 p.m. ET)
On Tuesday, México edged a step closer to qualification with its first final round victory, a 1-0 win over Jamaica. "El Tri" now commands CONCACAF's standings, and heads to Panama with renewed confidence. Their chances look even better after Panamá's 1-2 loss in a friendly game to Perú five days ago. Nevertheless, Panamá is a dangerous team at home. They beat Honduras, one of CONCACAF's favorites, 2-0 in March, and they are in second place in the Hexagonal. Mexico's chances will depend heavily on their attack, which has fared poorly in the last four games (they have only scored three goals). "Chicharito" Hernández and Giovani dos Santos are permanent fixtures in the Mexican squad, while Panamá will probably rely on "El Matador" Luis Tejada and FC Dallas forward Blas Pérez.
Jamaica vs. United States (9:30 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT)
The "Reggae Boyz" will have to raise their game if they want to beat an optimistic U.S. team that comes from defeating Germany 4-3 in an exciting friendly match last Wednesday. Jamaica, who lost 1-0 to Mexico in their last game, has played poorly in recent games, is currently last in the Hexagonal, and seems to be no match for the U.S. team. There could still be a surprise, though. Jamaica beat the U.S. 2-1 at home in the previous round, and one must always remember that friendlies are not an accurate measure of a team's current situation. Watch out for Jamaican forward Ryan Johnson, and for Clint Dempsey, who just scored two goals against Germany, in the U.S. team.
Costa Rica vs. Honduras (10:00 p.m. ET)
This game has been deemed by some observers as the Central American classic, and it should be Thrilling, given both teams' vibrant attacks. Costa Rica and Honduras have both won one game, lost another, and earned a draw in a third. They have an almost identical record, and are currently tied in the Hexagonal with the U.S. with four points. The "Ticos" have a better goal difference record than both Honduras and the U.S., and they beat Jamaica 2-0 in the previous match day. Honduras, meanwhile, lost against Panamá, and needs at least a draw to maintain a comfortable position in the final round. Look out for Joel Campbell, Real Betis' forward, in Costa Rica, and for Honduran forward Jerry Palacios.
Bolivia vs. Venezuela (4:00 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT)
Venezuelan hopes of playing in a World Cup have never seemed better, and a triumph against the Bolivian team would greatly increase their chances of playing in Brazil. "La Vinotinto" comes from beating Colombia at home 1-0, and counts with the experience and finesse of Borussia Mönchengladbach's Juan Arango. As it happens to any team visiting the Bolivian squad, the Venezuelans' biggest challenge will be dealing with the height of La Paz, which is located nearly 12,000 feet above sea level. Don't lose sight of Bolivian striker Marcelo Martins, who has been playing well with his country's team in the last couple of games.
Paraguay vs. Chile (8:00 p.m. ET)
The "Guaranís" have basically lost all chances of qualifying to Brazil 2014. They are the last team in the table, and they would need a miracle to make it to the fifth spot. Moreover, they haven't beat Chile since 2007. Chile, meanwhile, is currently fourth, and comes from beating Uruguay 2-0 at home. Alexis Sánchez, Barcelona's explosive forward, is in excellent shape and could be an important threat for the shaky Paraguayan defense. Meanwhile, Paraguay is hoping that their strikers Roque Santa Cruz and Óscar Cardozo will pick up their game and carry their team to a win.
Perú vs. Ecuador (10:00 p.m. ET)
After an incredibly slow start, Perú is finally showing what a team made up of players like Jefferson "La Foquita" Farfán, Paolo Guerrero, and Bayern Munich's Claudio Pizarro can do. They earned 10 of 15 possible points at home, and they are slowly climbing up the table. Ecuador, on the other hand, is also in excellent form, in part due to the quality of players like Machester United's Antonio Valencia and America's Christian Benítez. Ecuador is second, one point ahead of Colombia and four behind Argentina, and a victory in Perú could basically seal their presence in Brazil 2014. Look forward to an exhilarating game as the Peruvians battle to keep their chances of playing in their fifth World Cup alive.