x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Abreu: Messi the man to stop

Batista may change line-up for the Uruguay challenge

BUENOS AIRES // Argentina and Uruguay will renew their historic rivalry tonight in their Copa America quarter-finals with all eyes on potential match-winners Lionel Messi and Diego Forlan.

Uruguay won the first Copa America in 1916 and kept their momentum going through to the first World Cup, which they lifted in 1930.

With that inaugural Copa success coming on Argentinian soil, the home side will not be taking Forlan and company lightly in Santa Fe.

Historians of the world's oldest surviving international tournament also will point out that for the first six of Uruguay's 14 continental successes they beat Argentina, who also have 14 championships, in the final.

It took until 1927 before the boot was on the other foot.

The Argentines have won six Copa championships in their eight previous turns as hosts of the event. But on the other two occasions it was the Uruguayans who proved too strong, including in 1987, when even Diego Maradona could not prevent defeat as the world champions finished fourth.

Argentina have won nothing at the senior level since the 1993 Copa. Uruguay won the 1995 event and then trailed off until they reached the semi-finals of last summer's World Cup in South Africa.

The pair's head-to-head record reads 13-13. Both sides will be looking to their scoring leaders, Messi for the hosts, and Forlan for the Uruguayans, to turn the tide their way this time.

"This match will generate interest around the world," said the Uruguay striker Sebastian Abreu.

"Both countries have 14 titles and the winner will be well on the way to winning a 15th."

Abreu, who plays for the Brazilian club team Botofogo, said the task is to shackle Messi, although he admits he loves watching the Barcelona man play.

"You have to enjoy watching Messi - we're going up against the best player in the world. But Colombia kept him under wraps with a compact team. What we have to do is make sure we create a few chances."

Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguay coach, also believes Messi could be key. "Messi can create a lot of problems for us that are not going to disappear," he said.

"But, happily, we can also do a lot of things that neither Messi nor anybody else can prevent."

The Argentina coach, Sergio Batista, who hopes Messi will show his club form, as he did against Costa Rica, may opt to take Gonzalo Higuain out of the starting line-up.

Batista is believed to be pondering adding a defensive midfielder, Esteban Cambiasso or Lucas Biglia, and taking out the Real Madrid striker Higuain, who missed several chances against Costa Rica, in what would be a slightly more cautious line-up than the one which flattened the less wily Ticos.

The Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez promises that "it will be do-or-die and now the tournament is really beginning in earnest".

The last time sky blue and white went up against sky blue at the Copa was at the 2004 edition in Peru, when Argentina won an opening-round meeting 4-2.

Argentina went on to lose the final on penalties to Brazil, who thumped them 3-0 in the last final in 2007. Hence, the hosts' burning desire to stop Brazil, who meet Paraguay tomorrow, from completing a hat-trick.