Chile plot course for South Africa 2010
Four of the five games in this weekend's 13 round of South American World Cup qualifiers were won by the away team.
That's a remarkable statistic in a continent where so often the home sides come out on top. Before this round, the campaign was reproducing the standard South American ratio of 3 to 1, with 31 home wins to 10 away.
So there are four teams entitled to feel happy with their 90 minutes' work. All were great results. But in my mind, there is no doubt whatsoever as to which was the most impressive performance.
It is not Venezuela's 1-0 victory away to Bolivia, even though it meant overcoming the hazards of extreme altitude. Venezuela sent a group of players up the mountains early to acclimatise to the conditions, and their young side defended well.
On the other hand, the win was something of a freak. They failed to manage a serious shot -the goal came from a cross heading straight to the Bolivian keeper until one of his defenders turned it into his own net.
It's not Ecuador's 2-1 win in Peru, although they had four senior players suspended and one injured. Jefferson Montero confirmed his immense potential with a goal - but it should be borne in mind that Peru are stranded on the bottom of the table and this was their fifth consecutive defeat.
It's not even Brazil's extraordinary 4-0 win away to Uruguay, even though this was history in the making - in emphatic style.
Brazil had never before beaten Uruguay in a major competitive match in the Centenario stadium, and broke the hoodoo with a display of their counter-attacking prowess.
Nevertheless, the corner count of 15-2 in Uruguay's favour indicates where the action took place - and the scoreline is distorted by the tale of two contrasting keepers.
Swap over Brazil's magnificent Julio Cesar for Uruguay's hapless Sebastian Viera and the outcome may well have been different.
Which leaves Chile and their 2-0 triumph in Paraguay.
There was no need for any great heroics from Claudio Bravo in the Chilean goal. Chile travelled to Asuncion to meet the team who were at the top of the group, with a 100% home record - and beat them in style.
Before the game, Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino suggested that the winners would book their ticket to South Africa. If he is correct and Chile are all but home and dry, there is much to celebrate.
The World Cup will gain an ambitious, attacking side who produce some exhilarating moments. Its architect, coach Marcelo Bielsa, richly deserves another crack at international football's top prize.
Bielsa took his native Argentina to the 2002 World Cup. They had been superb in qualification, and were justly placed among the tournament favourites. But Japan/South Korea 2002 was an unusual tournament.
Held early to avoid the rainy season, it left those who had played the gruelling European season with limited recovery time. Argentina found themselves physically incapable of playing Bielsa's high energy attacking game, and went out in the first round.
But his philosophy remains intact. Bielsa wants to attack. He wants the game to take place in the opponent's half of the field, and so he has little use for the conventional full back. He wants his width higher up the pitch.
If the opponent attacks with two strikers, as Paraguay did on Saturday, Bielsa will defend with three, and lay out his side in a 3-3-1-3 formation.
Paraguay looked to hit strikers Cardozo and Haedo Valdez early - but they were taken care of by Chile's defensive line - and the Paraguayan midfield found it hard to get up in support because they were being pinned back by a Chile side anxious to impose itself on the game.
Chile's two goals bore out Bielsa's faith in the value of wingers - both to get behind the opposing defence but also to stretch them, and create space for infiltrations through the middle.
The first goal was an example - tricky right winger Alexis Sanchez slipping in a pass for attacking midfielder Mati Fernandez to burst through and score with a subtle finish.
The second was classic wing play, Jean Beausejour on the left teasing his full back, getting to the byeline and curling over a cross headed in at the far post by centre forward Humberto Suazo.
Martino was honest enough to admit that his side had been outplayed, and described Chile's inter-passing as the best on show in South America at the moment.
On Wednesday, Chile take on Bolivia in front of their own fans in Santiago. It should be their home banker - and a win will take them to 26 points with four rounds to go.
In previous campaigns 28 points have always been good enough for automatic qualification. Chile's first World Cup since 1998 is in sight.
Wednesday's match will be a test of the team's capacity to cope with the euphoria engendered by their own performances. But the real test will come next year - when Bielsa returns to the World Cup with a point to prove.
Comments on this piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;
Q) Seeing as Leonardo has been made AC Milan manager, how do you think he is going to fare?
A) A fascinating one, indeed. I can only see this as a response to what Guardiola has done at Barcelona - appoint someone from within, an ex-player with a connection to the core values of the club.
If this view is correct, then Leonardo certainly has a lot to live up to. I don't think he was Guardiola's equal as a player, and I'll be surprised if he has the same vision of the game.
What interests me most about the appointment is finding out whether Leonardo can take the tough decisions - he's always struck me as a nice, well brought-up type of person who says all the right things but perhaps doesn't want to offend people.
Guardiola walked straight in and cut out what he saw as deadwood - Ronaldinho and Deco were moved on, some criticized it at the time but a year later it looks like a masterstroke. Can Leonardo assert his presence in the same way?
Q) As an avid Liverpool fan, I see we have been linked to Kleber of Cruzeiro over the last few days. Are you able to shed any light on him?
He said that Liverpool were interested, the club said they'd not received an offer, so maybe this is agent talk.
He's a talented support striker, helped Brazil win the 2003 World Youth Cup, and was then largely forgotten at home after moving to Ukraine and spending five year with Dynamo Kiev. Came back last year with Palmeiras, and with Cruzeiro this year.
Lots of talent, lots of problems. Got sent off again on Sunday, has already been sent off twice in this year's Libertadores and seems to have real difficulties controlling himself. He's 26 in August, so if he's going to mature a bit then he's leaving it late.