After consecutive comprehensive defeats on their travels, Uruguay will try to conquer their away struggles in the high altitude of La Paz when they take on Bolivia today as South American 2014 World Cup qualifying enters its second half.
The reigning Copa America champions currently occupy the fourth and final automatic qualification spot for Brazil 2014, but find themselves level on points with fifth-placed Chile and just one ahead of sixth-placed Venezuela.
Having conceded seven goals in away defeats to Colombia (4-0) and Argentina (3-0), La Celeste’s defense will be stretched further in the Bolivian capital, with captain Diego Lugano, Diego Godin and Martin Caceres all ruled out through suspension.
Oscar Tabarez’s side have collected just one point away from Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, but SL Benfica fullback Maxi Pereira says a victory is essential.
“We have to win in Bolivia, there is no alternative,” he said.
Lugano, who helped guide Uruguay to the semi-finals in South Africa two years ago, echoed those sentiments, saying: “Now every game for us is like a final because our World Cup qualification is in danger.”
Uruguay will have little time to adjust to the altitude — the Estadio Hernando Siles is about 3,600m above sea level — but Pereira says that cannot be used as an excuse.
“I played in the altitude in the last campaign, coming on in the second half. At first it sets you back a bit, but after you can bear it,” he said.
However, unlike Ecuador, who have turned Quito into a fortress, Bolivia’s home qualifying record is far less impressive, with just one win from four matches.
Xabier Azkargorta’s men realistically need three points to keep their quickly fading hopes alive.
Argentina, unbeaten in their past six qualifiers, can take another step toward clinching their place in the finals when they face a depleted Chile in Santiago.
Chile succumbed to Ecuador in Quito on Friday, but the repercussions of that defeat have also left Claudio Borghi without Arturo Vidal and Pablo Contreras — both players were sent off — while Osvaldo Gonzalez is also suspended after accruing his second yellow card of the campaign. Miguel Pinto, meanwhile, will continue to deputize in goal for the injured Claudio Bravo.
Argentina, who lead the standings with 17 points from eight matches, have injury concerns of their own after Gonzalo Higuain (hip) and Marcos Rojo (hamstring) were forced off during La Albiceleste’s 3-0 win over Uruguay.
However, Alejandro Sabella does have an in-form Lionel Messi at his disposal. Since Sabella’s arrival, the Barcelona superstar has tallied 13 goals in as many matches and he received widespread acclaim for his two-goal performance against Uruguay.
Messi was also on the scoresheet when Argentina won the reverse fixture 4-1 in Buenos Aires in October last year and the 25-year-old is now just four shy of Diego Maradona’s 34 international goals.
Elsewhere, Venezuela have genuine ambitions of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time. Cesar Farias’ side are one point from an automatic berth as they prepare to host Ecuador.
Reinaldo Rueda’s Ecuador have proved unstoppable at home, with five wins from as many matches, but it has been a different story on the road, where they have picked up just one point from three matches.
Ecuador will be without the suspended Felipe Caicedo, who scored twice in Friday’s 3-1 win over Chile and has four goals in his past three matches for his country, but Antonio Valencia is available again following his one-match ban.
Paraguay and Peru meet in Asuncion in the other match.
Paraguay are bottom with a mere four points having lost five qualifiers in a row, their worst run since the current system was introduced in 1996, while seventh-placed Peru are on eight points.