Argentina are gradually emerging from their Copa America nightmare and are gunning for Venezuela on Tuesday as they seek three FIFA World Cup™ qualifying points to add to Friday's impressive start against Chile.
After the Albiceleste sent the Chileans packing 4-1, with Gonzalo Higuain netting a hat-trick and Lionel Messi also hitting the target, new coach Alex Sabella said it was as if a dead weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
Barcelona's Messi produced one of his best displays in the national shirt and after he capped the performance with a goal, Sabella, who succeeded Sergio Batista two months ago, said it was time to put to bed claims the superstar cannot replicate his scintillating club form at international level. "This goal will be important for Lionel to lay to rest this apparent collective psychosis that he can't do the business with Argentina," Sabella insisted.
Sabella, who led Estudiantes to the Copa Libertadores two years ago, is tasked with leading Argentina through to the 2014 finals in neighbouring Brazil, but, beyond that, with making the two-time world champions a team to be feared once more. Since a 1993 Copa success, seven coaches have come and gone without achieving senior level silverware.
The qualifying programme is the first step for Sabella and his charges to show that they have the right blend. The task is made easier in principle by the absence from the qualifiers of already-qualified Brazil, meaning the Argentinians can go about their business fully focused on winning the group in the absence of the five-time world champions.
Venezuela will be a test on their own turf, having played some attractive football in reaching the Copa semis for the first time. Four years ago, Argentina won the FIFA World Cup fixture 2-0 though they only just managed to qualify after some erratic showings with Diego Maradona taking the helm mid-campaign.
This time they have the bit between their teeth after thumping Chile although there will be no underestimating the Venezuelans even though the Albiceleste will be reinforced by the return from injury of Martin Demichelis and from suspension of Javier Mascherano.
Venezuela went down to Ecuador in their opener and coach Cesar Farias admitted that "they deserved to beat us." Now the Venezuelans have to dig deep at Puerto La Cruz as they bid to lose their unwanted tag of being the only South American side never to reach the finals. "The qualifiers are not just about one game, and we have to bounce back from the loss and get points on the board," said Farias.
Continental final re-match
Copa America winners Uruguay, having begun with a promising 4-2 home win over outsiders Bolivia, now meet Paraguay, the team they beat to land the continental crown in July. Veteran Diego Forlan is warning that the test in Asuncion will be one of the most difficult of the tournament.
"We know Tuesday will be tough. They'll be playing at home and we know they have good players so it will be a hard one for us," said Inter Milan's Forlan, who needs one goal to become his country's all-time top scorer. "They always give us a tough workout and as this one is in Asuncion it will be no exception."
Paraguay got their campaign off to a rocky start in losing their opener away to Peru who, after a shocking 2010 qualifying programme, came third at the Copa America.
Peru will hope to keep their recent promising form going as they head for Chile while Colombia make their bow with a trek to face Bolivia at altitude in La Paz's Estadio Hernando Siles, where four years ago they managed a goalless draw.
There are four automatic regional qualifying slots up for grabs plus one via the play-offs.