Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin accepts Uruguay will be the team to beat in 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying following their Copa America triumph earlier this year. Godin helped 2010 FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay win their continental competition in Argentina in July and, with five-time world champions and 2014 hosts Brazil not having to qualify, Godin believes his side will be targeted.
"Every team will want to beat us," the 25-year-old centre-back ahead of tomorrow's opener against Bolivia in Montevideo. "We're the rivals to defeat at this time. We know we're in that position and we have to continue on the same path. Bolivia will keep things very tight, looking to defend their goal. We know it will be very tough to find that first goal that can open up the match, but if we do what we know, and we play as we have been playing, we can break down their defence."
Four automatic spots will be available for the nine South American teams contesting qualification, plus a play-off berth against a CONCACAF representative for the fifth-placed team. Group favourites Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, kick off their campaign against Chile in Buenos Aires. The Chileans qualified in style for last year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa, finishing in second spot - only one point behind Brazil. Their coach Marcelo Bielsa has since been replaced by fellow Argentinian Claudio Borghi, but the heart of the team remains the same.
Paraguay coach Francisco Arce will send his side out looking to attack Peru in Lima. After qualifying for the last four successive FIFA World Cups - a feat achieved by only Argentina and Brazil of the South American teams - Paraguay again look strong. "Despite being the visitors, we will look for the victory," Arce said. "I expect a good match, because Peru - like us - also have some technically gifted players. "We have a shirt to defend; we have a status and players who are used to facing qualifiers. They know how to take us to a World Cup."
The fourth match to be held tomorrow will see Ecuador take on Venezuela in Quito. The Ecuadorians reached the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups but missed out on a spot in South Africa last summer after finishing a point behind Uruguay. Manchester United and Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia said: "The target is to qualify for Brazil 2014, so we have to start winning on Friday. We have to show football and character to win. We have to think within the national team and as a whole country that want to go to Brazil."
Venezuela were for many years considered one of the continent's weaker teams, but they have now left that tag well and truly behind. And, boosted by their run to the Copa America semi-finals over the summer, they plan to fight for at least a play-off spot. Defender Fernando Amorebieta said: "Ecuador are very tough rivals, even more so at their home, but we have proved in the past we can beat them, and we want to win this match."