Each angling for a place atop South America’s World Cup qualifying standings, Colombia and Chile’s Thursday matchup at Estadio Nacional in Santiago figures to revolve around the health and production of respective stars James Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez.

Following convincing victories over Brazil and Chile in October’s last round of qualifiers, Chile joins Uruguay and Ecuador as South America’s only undefeated squads thanks to Sanchez’s three goals.

However, the 26-year-old Arsenal attacking midfielder and his international coach Jorge Sampaoli dealt with questions and criticism over his fitness and responsibilities to both club and country. Sampaoli played Sanchez a full 90 minutes in both of the Copa America champions’ wins, despite a nagging groin injury that could’ve limited his effectiveness for the Gunners.

Sampaoli admitted he knew Sanchez wasn’t in top form, but said the squad needed his presence on the pitch to deter opponents, and in turn Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger limited his leading scorer’s minutes in the closing stages of the Gunners three subsequent matches.

In order to resolve the conflict between club and country, Chile and its team doctors have developed a “special plan” to avoid injury.

"Alexis will be taken with caution when he arrives to the (national team camp). He always is eager to play and demanded himself the maximum in the training sessions but we do not want to get him exhausted or demand him to much so he will do some different exercises (to the rest of the squad)," a source familiar with the situation told AS Chile last week. "He is privileged (in terms of fitness) because he recovers very fast and the month of holidays he had after the Copa America was very good for him, although he struggled a little bit to get back on track in the start of the campaign."

Sanchez has tallied 12 goals and five assists over 24 starts in all competitions this season.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez only recently returned to the pitch after a thigh injury sustained in Colombia’s 1-1 friendly with Peru on Sept. 9 kept him out of Real Madrid’s lineup for over a month.

Rodriguez returned to action as a substitute in Madrid’s 3-2 loss to Sevilla on Sunday, netting his fifth goal of the year in the process.

Los Cafeteros didn’t need Rodriguez, who became the darling of the 2014 World Cup with his dazzling attacking style, in their first qualifying 2-0 win over Peru but his presence was sorely missed five days later when Uruguay claimed a 3-0 win.

Rodriguez is expected to feature against Chile as well as Nov. 17’s matchup with Argentina, but Colombia will miss Chelsea forward Radamel Falcao for both matches due to a muscular injury, according to Goal.com.

Falcao, 29, hasn’t started for Colombia since the Copa America and has netted only one goal for Chelsea as one of the first men off the bench for Jose Mourinho.

Prediction: Chile over Colombia, 2-1