The two nations who contested the first ever World Cup final and have faced each other on more occasions than any other pairing do battle once again on Friday when Argentina host Uruguay in Mendoza in the eighth round of qualifying matches for Brazil 2014 (1am BST, Saturday).
Argentina are the current group leaders as we approach the half-way stage of the qualification process, a point clear of Colombia and Ecuador and with a two-point cushion to Uruguay and Chile, their next two opponents.
After a shaky start, they have steadily improved under the stewardship of former Estudiantes coach Alejandro Sabella, winning three of their last four qualifiers. Argentina are undefeated this year in matches in which their full strength squad has been utilised. Lionel Messi has scored nine times, including two hat-tricks.
If training sessions leading up to Friday’s match can be taken as an indicator, Messi will line-up as part of an exciting three-man attack, supported by Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid. The last time all three played together was in Argentina’s 4-0 thrashing of Ecuador in June, in which all of them got on the scoresheet.
Messi has struck up a particularly fruitful relationship with Aguero. Two small but deceptively strong, quick-footed forwards, in unison they offer a threat that even the best defences in the world would struggle to curtail.
Further back, the midfield three looks likely to be made up of Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago and Angel Di Maria. With Di Maria’s rapidity used to link the midfield to the forwards, Sabella is particularly keen to ensure that Gago holds his position, assisting Mascherano in providing a two-man shield to guard against potential counter-attacks.
The defence they will seek to protect has kept just one clean sheet in the seven competitive matches played since Sabella took over in August 2011 and just two in all 13 matches of his reign. The players that make up the defence are solid enough, but are clearly weaker than those in other sections of the team.
If any side possesses the offensive talent to take advantage of these defensive deficiencies then it is Uruguay, who boast, on paper, one of the best attacking trios in world football. Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez are all excellent players and have contributed nine of the 15 goals Uruguay have scored during the qualification process to date.
However, they have not always provided an output that corresponds to their accumulated talent. For instance, since breaking into the Uruguayan national team, Cavani has averaged a goal every 0.58 matches at club level, but only one every 0.29 matches for Uruguay.
Cavani is often deployed in a wide forward role with more defensive responsibilities than he is tasked with at Napoli. Forlan drops deep to help link play with a midfield lacking in creativity – which it especially will against Argentina with Gaston Ramirez missing through injury – leaving Suarez as the primary goal threat (5 of the 9 goals scored by the trio have come from Suarez).
The forward three is just one area of the Uruguayan team that looks in need of remodelling. Coach Oscar Washington Tabarez is, quite rightly given his successes with the national team over the last couple of years, not yet facing serious questions over his future. However he needs to show that he is capable of overseeing a smooth transition from one generation to the next.
The likes of Forlan, Diego Perez and Diego Lugano are unlikely to play prominent roles at the 2014 World Cup, yet still form the nucleus of Tabarez’s side. Uruguay have utilised just 18 different players in the qualification campaign to date, ten less than any other nation. Only one, Ramirez, did not feature in the 2010 World Cup or 2011 Copa America squads.
Tabarez clearly trusts his favourites to deliver, but Uruguay have, in recent matches, looked leaden-footed and predictable. Other nations having long since taken heed of their approach and found solutions to the problems it poses. A change of tact looks required to get their campaign back on track.
Argentina vs Uruguay Betting Tips
Argentina and Uruguay have met 181 times: Argentina winning 84, Uruguay 55, while the spoils have been shared on a further 42 occasions.
Uruguay prevailed on penalties in the most recent encounter between the sides at last summer’s Copa America, but Argentina won both matches in the qualifying tournament for the 2010 World Cup and look primed to emerge victorious once more here.
With Alvaro Pereira suspended, Uruguay lack pace in midfield and defence and could be overrun by a nimble-footed Argentine attack.