Just a few months after Uruguay won the Copa America, South America’s national teams are preparing to do battle once more – this time for places at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
The region's qualifiers are regarded by its players and fans as the toughest in the world, and look especially open on this occasion. With hosts Brazil not taking part and so little separating the other sides, it could be the most fiercely contested qualifying campaign to date. FIFA.com previews all the action ahead of the opening round of games this weekend.
Runners-up to Brazil in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010, Chile head to Buenos Aires in search of a maiden win on Argentinian soil. If they are to make history, however, coach Claudio Borghi will need to do it without injured forward Alexis Sanchez, who misses the chance to return to the stadium where he enjoyed an impressive loan spell with River Plate in 2008. Borghi’s opposite number Alejandro Sabella will be overseeing his first competitive game tomorrow, and will be keen to extend his side’s proud record at the Monumental where they have been unbeaten in this competition for 18 years. Another debut will involve Lionel Messi, who is expected to captain La Albiceleste for the first time in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Uruguay added the continental title this year to their fourth-placed finish at South Africa 2010. La Celeste open their campaign in Montevideo against a Bolivia side that finished second-last in the previous qualifiers. Having secured a play-off berth in the last three preliminary competitions, Uruguay start as firm favourites but will not be underestimating a Bolivia side that showed great composure in holding hosts Argentina to a 1-1 draw in the opening game of this year’s Copa America.
Meanwhile in Quito, Ecuador and Venezuela, two sides that missed out on South Africa 2010, will be desperate to make a winning start. Reinaldo Rueda’s men have history on their side with four wins from five at home to Venezuela but will need no reminding of what happened on the opening day of the previous qualifying campaign four years ago. A superb strike from Juan Manuel Rey, who will be on the pitch again on Friday, handed La Vinotinto their only qualifying win in Quito to date.
Peru versus Paraguay will see Sergio Markarian and Francisco Arce renew acquaintances, but this time as opponents. Currently at the Peruvian helm, Markarian coached Arce while leading La Albirroja to the finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. The visitors will be hoping to improve on their disappointing record on Peruvian soil, where they have lost three and drawn two of their five qualifiers.
Player to watch
Luis Suarez (URU)
Winner of the Best Player award at the recent Copa America, the Uruguayan goal-getter will be anxious to run out against Bolivia, the team he scored his first competitive international goal against in the corresponding fixture in 2007. Coach Oscar Tabarez will wait until the last minute before making a decision on whether to partner the Liverpool striker, who is recovering from a muscle strain, with Diogo Forlan.
Did you know?
The CONMEBOL preliminary competition offers four direct berths to Brazil 2014 as well as a play-off slot against the fifth-placed team from Asia. As hosts, Brazil qualify automatically and will not participate in the preliminary competition.