Messi, key man for Argentina
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP):
Argentina have looked like the team they are supposed to be so far in World Cup qualifying, fluid and high-scoring with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero leading the way.
Argentina face neighbours Uruguay today in one of four South America qualifiers. With due respect to Higuain and Aguero, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez knows his defence needs to focus on Messi.
"We have to keep Messi from getting the ball," Tabarez said. "His role has to be limited. It will be a disappointment if he's in the game and scores a goal."
today's other maches
Also today, it's, Colombia vs Paraguay, Ecuador vs Chile, and Bolivia vs Peru. Venezuela have the day off and Brazil qualify automatically as hosts.
Argentina lead the qualifying group with 14 points. Colombia and Ecuador trail by one, Uruguay and Chile by two, and Venezuela by three. The three remaining teams are long shots to reach the 2014 World Cup, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Argentina have vastly improved under coach Alejandro Sabella, who took over after Sergio Batista was fired following last year's Copa America and the loss to Uruguay on penalties in the quarter-finals. It's the last time they played.
"You can't use that game as a comparison," Tabarez said. "Argentina under Sabella is playing together as a team, which it wasn't a while back."
Argentina are in good shape for the match in the western city of Mendoza, missing only back-up forward Ezequiel Lavezzi with a knee injury. Uruguay will be without two injured defenders - Diego Perez and Gaston Ramierz.
"It's nice being in first place, but we're not relaxing," Messi said. "You lose a game and you go down quickly in the standings."
Colombia, who look like Argentina's biggest challengers under Argentine-born coach Jose Pekerman, will be strong favourites at home against Paraguay.
Colombia's main man is Atletico de Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, who shares the scoring lead in Spain with eight goals, the same as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He has three in South American qualifying, which is led by Higuain and Luis Suarez of Uruguay with six.