Ninety minutes. That is all the time that separates Uruguay from a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. After earning a 1-0 lead in the first leg of their CONMEBOL/CONCACAF play-off against Costa Rica on Saturday, the Uruguayans hold all the aces going into Wednesday’s return match at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.

Despite that advantage, La Celeste are refusing to get carried away and are staying firmly focused on the job in hand, as found out during an exclusive interview with Charrúa defender Diego Godin.

The Villarreal man has been an integral part of the Uruguay rearguard throughout the qualification campaign. And such is coach Oscar Tabarez’s faith in the 23-year-old Godin that he has enjoyed more time on the pitch during the qualifiers than any other player in the team, bar Diego Lugano, the scorer of Saturday’s all-important goal in San Jose. On the eve of the decisive return leg, the Rosario-born defender gave his forthright views on Uruguay’s hopes of finally clinching a ticket to South Africa. Diego, what is the feeling in the Uruguay camp following your win in Costa Rica?
Diego Godin:
We’re happy because we came out on top in a difficult game. We are just a step away but it’s still a step we have to take. We know we are 1-0 up of course, but there are still 90 minutes to go and we need to play them better than we did the other day. We know from past experience that we haven’t qualified for anywhere yet.

What were the key factors in your win at the weekend?
Our attitude and concentration. We’re not used to playing on artificial pitches and we struggled to adapt and get the ball moving. We didn’t feel that comfortable and the crowd also made itself heard. That’s why the win was so satisfying.

It must have been a relief for you then.
Yes, especially as they won 85 per cent of their points there. We were the favourites on paper and we accepted that, but we still had to go there and back that up on the pitch by playing and winning. We knew it was important to go and get a good result so we could put ourselves in the position we are in now. They have to come to Uruguay now with everything against them, and all we need to do is keep our feet on the ground and finish what we started there.

What did Oscar Tabarez say to you about the result?
El Maestro congratulated us right at the end of the game but told us not to celebrate at all. He stressed the fact that we need to put the win behind us and to start focusing there and then on the return match. That mental aspect will be vital in making sure we don’t get caught off guard. 

Is there any chance that the lead could weigh against you?
We’ll talk about that and make sure it doesn’t happen. We have the advantage, for sure, but this is no time for us to start relaxing. If we go into the game thinking we’ve done the hard part, then we’ll most probably end up having problems. That’s why we’ll be trying to play football, something we couldn’t do there because of the pitch, use our heads and go out to win.

What is your view of Costa Rica?
They’ve got some good players but they played just as we expected them to. There was nothing that took us by surprise. We kept a close eye on the players that could do us damage, and aside from the odd chance they didn’t create much danger.

This is your first qualifying competition. Did you imagine it would be so difficult?
They’re difficult for every team but they seem to be that much harder for Uruguay. We don’t have the squad to be able to rotate much and we always feel the effect of red cards and injuries. The tournament was very evenly contested and several teams went into the last day with a chance of doing something, Uruguay among them. We shouldn’t forget, though, that with three games left we were more out than in and now it’s the other way round. 

And to cap it all you have to go through a play-off.
It’s a tense situation, yes. You work hard for nearly three years and it all boils down to 180 minutes. That’s why we need to be in the right frame of mind for these two games. There’s a huge amount at stake and the smallest details could make all the difference. If you make a mistake, you pay for it, and you can feel the tension. 

How do you feel about having played more minutes than anyone else during the campaign apart from Diego Lugano?
I am very happy that the coach has that much confidence in me. You get selected based on your club form and also on how you play when you get called up. And it’s easy to perform alongside Diego, who is not just a role model in the team but also the skipper.

What would it mean to you to complete this long process by reaching the FIFA World Cup finals?
It would be a dream come true. It’s very important for me to be in the national team of course, but this is a country that lives and breathes football and it would be great to put a smile on the fans’ faces. It would mean a lot for Uruguayan sport. On a personal note, reaching the World Cup would be something that no one could ever take away from me. And that’s why we have to give our all one more time so that nobody can deny us the chance of reaching South Africa.