After Argentina slipped up in their opening match against Bolivia, Uruguay will scent a chance to get one up on their neighbours as they meet unfancied Peru in tomorrow's Group C opener. The Uruguayans, led by striker Diego Forlan, whose goals helped them reach last summer's FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals, have won 14 continental titles, a record they share with Argentina.
Los Charruas have not won the Latin American championship since 1995, though that is still two years more recently than Argentina themselves. But their FIFA World Cup showing came on the back of runs to the semis of the last two Copa editions.
Confidence is therefore running high before the match at the Estadio del Bicentenario in San Juan, with even Brazil coach Mano Menezes making the sky blues his dark horse bet. Forlan says the team are mentally ready to go. "We know we have plenty in our locker to win this event," said the Atletico Madrid star, as he looked forward to the game at the team hideaway in the western city of Mendoza.
"We think we can take on anyone," added the man whose goals were instrumental in taking the Uruguayans so close to a first FIFA World Cup semi-final since 1970 and also earned him the player of the tournament accolade. "We just know we have a strong team and that if we perform to the best of our capabilities we can win games."
Squad-mate Mauricio Victorino, a defender with Brazil's Cruzeiro, insists that Uruguay have come to Argentina "to win the tournament, and we are on a par with those teams who are capable of doing so. We have a very competitive team."
Although Peru have slumped in recent years from the days when the likes of Teofilo Cubillas pulled the strings at the 1978 FIFA World Cup, Forlan says they are still dangerous because "they always play good football".
Victorino notes that "they are embarking on a new cycle" under Uruguayan-born coach Sergio 'El Mago' (the magician) Markarian. "Therefore we shall have to be very wary," Victorino said. Coach Oscar Tabarez echoes that sentiment. "To underestimate Peru would be the worst thing we could do," he insisted.
Peru striker Paolo Guerrero has promised a close-fought affair and that "we will be going out there intending to win." The Hamburg forward added: "Confidence is good and our attitude is also, so we will be well up for it against Uruguay."
Guerrero will be a key man for Peru, especially in the absences through injury of both Claudio Pizarro of Werder Bremen and Schalke's Jefferson Farfan. Peru won the event in 1939 and 1975, but will start as outsiders in a group also containing Chile and Mexico, who face off, also in San Juan, tomorrow evening.