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South American World Cup Qualifiers set to impress

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With each country having two to three World Cup qualifiers remaining the action is heating up in South America.

With Brazil automatically qualified as hosts, four direct qualifying spots and one play-off spot remain in the balance.  Let’s take a look at all the qualifying action going on in South America and remember to check back with NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk for plenty of coverage on all the international games.

Uruguay vs. Colombia

The marquee match of the night pits high-flying Colombia against Uruguay at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario.

A single point will be enough for second place Colombia to book their tickets to Brazil but even if Radamel Falcao & Co. lose, they can still qualify for the World Cup if Bolivia upend Ecuador. Expect Jose Pekerman’s squad to play for the former but points don’t come easy for Los Cafeteros in Uruguay as they haven’t drawn there since 2001 and haven’t won there since 1973.

After a slow start to qualifying Uruguay have gotten it together of late, winning two straight for the first time since the process began. In fifth place and just two points shy of Ecuador, La Celeste will be keen on taking all three points to snap up the final direct qualifying berth of the region. Making that happen will be a team effort, however, as Diego Forlan is doubtful with injury while Diego Lugano and Diego Godin are both out on suspension.

Bolivia vs. Ecuador

Fourth place Ecuador will be hard pressed to earn a positive result against bottom-dwellers Bolivia so they can avoid losing that coveted fourth place to Uruguay. Despite La Paz being a difficult place to play La Tricolor have performed quite well on Bolivian soil, winning their last eight straight.

A victory on Tuesday would not only ward off Uruguay but could thrust Ecuador into third place over Chile, who have the night off. Don’t expect too much fight from the home side in this one as Bolivia have already been eliminated from the competition.

Venezuela vs. Peru

With both sides in must-win territory, Venezuela and Peru should be a cracker of a match.

Sixth place Venezuela will be knocked out if Uruguay better their result but if La Vinotinto avoid such a fate they can stay alive with a victory over seventh placed Peru. Venezuela have beaten Peru the last three times the sides met on Venezuelan soil and haven’t lost there since 1977. After managing only one point in their last three matches, however, Venezuela will need to improve their form if Brazil is in their future.

Paraguay vs. Argentina

The final match to kick-off in the region means that first place Argentina may have already qualified before kick-off. If either Uruguay or Ecuador lose, Argentina is through and could change the complexity of the tie with Paraguay. If neither of those scenarios occur then Argentina’s entry into Brazil will require a victory in Asuncion.

The Uruguay/Ecuador scenario could also decide Paraguay’s fate before kick-off but if neither pans out then eight place La Albirroja still stand a fighting chance. They’ll need all three points to make it happen but doing so is the only way to preserve a fifth placed finish and intercontinental play-off. And yes, Lionel Messi will be playing.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham.

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.

Qatari official says World Cup drunks will be treated “very gently”

In this photo taken during a government organized media tour, laborers work at the Al-Wakra Stadium that is under construction for the 2022 World Cup, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, May 4, 2015. Qatar’s top labor official told The Associated Press Monday that Qatar’s inability to ensure decent housing for its bulging migrant labor population was “a mistake” the government is working to fix as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, vowing his country would improve conditions for its vast foreign labor force. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
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One of the biggest unanswered questions still hanging over the 2022 World Cup — at least for fans traveling to Qatar for the tournament — has to do with the rules and regulations placed upon their consumption of alcohol.

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On Monday, Hassan Al Thawadi, the head of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup committee, attempted to ease those fears when he said that not only will the consumption of alcohol be permitted during the tournament in six years’ time, but that in the event of public drunkenness, the visitors in question will be dealt with quickly and “very gently” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I know in South Africa there where specific courts established during the World Cup for this kind of thing, and that is something we were discussing with FIFA.”

“In relation to drunk fans it will be as it is anywhere else, anyone who is rowdy, anyone who breaches the law, will be very gently – depending on how they react – taken care of in a manner to make sure that people are not disrupting the public order. Everyone will be able to have fun and be exposed to Qatari culture.”

“We welcome everyone in the world. We’ve hosted many people, from many places and [drinking] was never an issue. This will be a fun World Cup. It will be one of the best cups out there.”