The World Cup is by far the biggest sporting spectacle on earth. It is the one competition that draws a record audience every time it comes around, nothing else can match the atmosphere. But before the main event, the build up of the qualifiers has its own fair share of drama, thrills and bragging rights.
There are multiple matches throughout the month of September, and beyond, that have larger implications for the participating countries than just the qualifier itself. Here are a couple of matches this weekend that mean more than just the eventual score line.
Cuba v USA - A showdown in Havana or a guaranteed American win?
Every time we attempt to take politics out of sport, it never happens. The game in Havana is another indication that both are intertwined. This is an intriguing game because it is being played on Cuban soil.
It is the first time in 61 years that the US men's national team visits a nation it has more political history with than football tradition. Its importance goes beyond the game, it has political connotations behind it. Yes the Cubans have played on U.S. soil numerous times in the last 10 years, but not the other way around.
Not a lot is known about the Cubans and the biggest team in CONCACAF is still a decent squad in World football at best. The USA, without any flair in the current squad, raises the issue of a lack of creative players again with coach Bob Bradley. Even if a Jeniel Marquez consolation goal arises for Cuba, the focus will be on the Americans and rightly so. They are the best team in the region and cannot lose this game.
Some have labelled the team experienced, while others cry out for new blood like MLS darlings Kenny Cooper and Edson Buddle. Critics have tagged Bradley's forwards as boring and slow. Is he stubborn, incompetent or plain genius as fans cannot comprehend his strategy?
That America's players might receive similar treatment as their last game against Guatemala should not be overlooked.
Unfortunately for the Americans, there won't be a plethora of fans chanting 'USA' in the stands due to travel restriction to communist countries, nor will there be a flood of American journalists covering the game either.
With the unimpressive and slow central defensive pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra at club level, American fans will pray that Borussia Dortmund defender Neven Subotic makes up his mind and fast.
More Cubans will throng the stadium compared to their loss against Trinidad and Tobago; this is bigger, with political history behind it.
Argentina v Paraguay - Battle for the top in South America
To some it might come as a surprise that Paraguay top CONMEBOL in qualification for the World Cup, at the moment. Traditionally, Argentina and Brazil are known for their grip on that position. But with most of their games played in Asuncion, and against reduced quality, it comes as no shock that Paraguay are top, for now. Or will their game against Argentina prove to their critics they merit their top spot?
A win in Buenos Aires, for Paraguay, translates into sole possession at the top: a place others always lay claim to. An important question is will Santa Cruz start? The Blackburn forward is suffering from an ankle injury, but he's not the only injured player. Team-mate Julio Cesar Caceres might face a late fitness test ahead of an important away match.
With only four points in three away matches, Paraguay's surprise loss to Bolivia in La Paz and draw in Peru, shows they must discover how to shut off the away fans and deal with only the 11 Argentina players on the pitch.
Santa Cruz, injured or not, and Nelson Valdez must start and that might not be enough as Paraguay approach their visit to Buenos Aires expecting a better team compared to the Bolivians. Paulo Da Silva and a doubtful Cesar Caceres, if he plays, will remain busy for 90 minutes with Alfio Basile's front line.
With the inclusion of seven Olympians like Lionell Messi, Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria, this will be a great battle for what is at stake.
If Paraguay steals the show, which is possible, they hold their destiny for 2010 in their own hands. Can it happen and how long will it take for Argentina or Brazil to bring them back to earth?
South Africa v Nigeria - Will Bafana Bafana qualify for the Nations Cup?
Despite being 2010 hosts, Benni McCarthy's nation must play the game of their lives against Nigeria in Port Elizabeth, obviously not for the World Cup finals, but for qualification to Angola 2010. That's the next venue of the African Cup of Nations as this time around, the African qualifiers double for the Nations Cup and World Cup proper.
Both countries have a history of playing each other and though the South Africans would consider it a rivalry, the Nigerians would beg to differ. If South Africa fails to win the crucial game against Nigeria this weekend, they will be in jeopardy of not making it to Angola.
A win against Nigeria, one which will boost their ego, will keep them in the hunt for second place as they are still tied with Sierra Leone; a nation not without its problems.
Nigeria will sorely miss Joseph Yobo more than Nwankwo Kanu, John Obi Mikel and Obafemi Martins. All four players are out due to injuries, but Yobo's goals in the two of the last matches have given the Super Eagles the slimmest of victories against Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Forwards like Ikechukwu Uche and Yakubu must step up. The Yak started off well in the Premier League scoring in his first two matches, only to miss a penalty against Portsmouth over the weekend. Nigerian or South African fans might not scream 'Feed the Yak,' but the burly Nigerian must give his fans something to sing about.
The Bafana Bafana will be without captain Aaron Makoena, suspended for the match, but a surprise inclusion of Matthew Booth who last tasted international duty in 2005, will test their ability to hold the Nigerian attacks.
• Sulaiman Folarin is a columnist for ESPNsoccernet and contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.