As his side head into their winner-takes-all match with Argentina tonight, the Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has told his team to rise to the challenge. The victor of the game at the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo will gain a place at the World Cup finals in South Africa. The losers might not qualify at all. "It's going to be a tough game because they are an opponent with lots of prestige," said Tabarez. "But we don't consider it impossible." Argentina have 25 points, Uruguay 24 and Ecuador, who play Chile away, have 23 going into the final round in South American qualifying. All three teams have a mathematical possibility of finishing fourth in the group and earning the last automatic berth.
Each country could also finish fifth, and face a play-off in November with the fourth-placed team from North and Central America and the Caribbean, which will be either Costa Rica or Honduras. "We know we can still qualify, and this was the great challenge of the qualifying process. Now we are a game from achieving it," Tabarez added. If Ecuador beat Chile, they will finish at least fifth and earn a play-off spot. Ecuador could also get the automatic spot, but for that to happen, Argentina and Uruguay have to draw and Ecuador would have to beat Chile by at least five goals.
Meanwhile, the Argentina coach Diego Maradona's tactics have again come under fire, this time for his use of the mercurial Barcelona striker Lionel Messi. Cesar Menotti, the trainer who led the Albiceleste to World Cup glory in 1978, thinks that blaming the diminutive forward for his country's poor performances is unacceptable because of his differing roles with club and country. "Argentina do not yet have a functioning team. They have not had the time to find that unity and team play," he told Sport.
"That is completely different from the way that Messi does things with Barcelona. He started at the club, then was on the bench and then began to play for a few minutes before claiming a regular place. Messi is not responsible for the strategy at Barcelona. That is [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi and [Yaya] Toure. Messi is the one that completes the moves. "When it comes to Argentina they expect Messi to cope with the strategy of the team, to create goals and score them, to do everything.
"Messi plays for Barcelona, but [with] Argentina he runs." * With agencies Uruguay v Argentina, 2.01am Thursday, Aljazeera Sport + 3