Diego Lugano (left) wants Uruguay to put physical pressure on Argentina in tonight’s World Cup qualifier
After climbing three spots to fourth in the latest FIFA world rankings, Argentina can further enhance their World Cup prospects when they host reigning South American champions Uruguay as qualifying for Brazil 2014 continues on Friday.
The showdown in Mendoza pits a pair of two-time World Cup winners together in what is the first meeting between the sides since Uruguay ousted Argentina on penalties in the quarter-finals of last summer’s Copa America.
Despite being held to a 1-1 draw in Peru last month, Argentina are unbeaten in their past five qualifiers and find themselves top of the group with 14 points from seven matches, while Uruguay occupy the final automatic qualification spot as they lie fourth, two points behind La Albiceleste.
Sergio Aguero returns for Argentina after missing fixtures against Paraguay and Peru through injury, but with the vast attacking riches at coach Alejandro Sabella’s disposal, Carlos Tevez’s international exile continues.
Other notable omissions include Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Javier Pastore and Newcastle defender Fabricio Coloccini, while Ezequiel Lavezzi is an injury casualty.
Uruguay come into the encounter in stuttering form, having picked up just a solitary point from their last two matches, one of which resulted in a 4-0 drubbing in Colombia.
They will be without injured duo Gaston Ramirez and Diego Perez as well as the suspended Alvaro Pereira.
But despite the prospect of trying to shackle the likes of Lionel Messi, who has 10 goals in his last seven appearances for his country, Gonzalo Higuain — the leading scorer in qualifying with six goals — and Aguero, La Celeste captain Diego Lugano reasoned that his side also have the firepower to seriously expose their opponents.
“Obviously Uruguay have the weapons to counter those of Argentina,” said PSG defender Lugano.
“If they have the best attack in the world, with Messi at the head, Uruguay must have the second or third, with (Luis) Suarez and (Diego) Forlan.”
Lugano did however sound a note of caution to his teammates, stressing the importance of sticking to their fundamentals if they are to succeed.
“Our game is based on physical aggression. I think we lost this in the last games against Colombia and Ecuador. There was a little letdown from the team.
“In this match we have to return to having this physical pressure and try to neutralize the Argentine players,” explained Lugano.
Combative Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano said he expects another eagerly contested encounter in Mendoza.
“For us the game against Uruguay is a classic. The last matches we’ve played against them were hotly disputed.
“They are one of the strongest sides in the continent,” added the Barcelona player.
With the qualifying competition approaching the halfway point, Mascherano suggested two victories — Argentina play Chile four days later in Santiago — in the next week would position the 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners well for the tournament in Brazil.
“Taking into account that we are top of the standings and Venezeula are off, if we can take six points from six, that would be ideal and put us well on track for qualification,” he said.
Elsewhere, Ecuador host Chile at the Estadio Olimpico Atahulpa in Quito, where Reinaldo Rueda’s men boast a perfect record in the high altitude, having recorded three wins from as many matches without conceding a goal.
Lowly Paraguay travel to Barranquilla to face a Colombia side led by in-demand Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao. The visitors will be seeking to arrest a four-match losing streak that has left them in dire trouble propping up the group with a paltry four points, while second-placed Colombia have table-toppers Argentina in their sights.
Friday’s other game will see Peru face a tricky test against Bolivia — another match that will be played at altitude — in La Paz. Both sides are in desperate need of the three points to keep their dwindling qualification hopes alive.
Friday (kick-off times GMT)
Bolivia v Peru (2000), Colombia v Uruguay (2030), Ecuador v Chile (2100), Argentina v Uruguay (0000 Saturday)