Kick-off: Wednesday, November 18, 22:00 GMT, Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay
First blood to La Celeste
Uruguay hold the advantage going into the second leg of this World Cup qualifier after Diego Lugano’s first half strike in San Jose put them a goal ahead in the tie. The win on foreign soil means that the 32nd and final place at next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa is Uruguay’s to lose.
With the tie merely at half time however, nothing is decided yet and a spirited second half performance by Costa Rica when they found themselves reduced to 10 men shows Los Ticos still have the fire in their belly to make the game in Montevideo a contest.
Randall Azofeifa’s red card just after the interval appeared to give Uruguay the perfect opportunity to extend their advantage in San Jose at the weekend but after the dismissal it was Costa Rica who engineered the game’s better chances.
The apparent improvement in Costa Rica’s performance after Azofeifa was sent off by Alberto Undiano did not go unnoticed by Uruguay’s head coach Oscar Tabarez.
“Costa Rica’s most dangerous spell was when they where playing with ten men and we made the mistake of playing too defensively in the second half.” Tabarez said. “Costa Rica showed calmness even with ten men.”
Despite having the odd gripe with his team’s performance on Saturday the Uruguayan manager is happy to have his nose in front at the halfway point of the playoff.
“Winning away is not easy and we passed a very difficult test in a very even game.” Tabarez added. “The 1-0 score is excellent, even if we did not play at our best. Now we are focused on Wednesday. We have had a dream for three years and a half and we now have the chance to make it come true.”
Los Ticos down but not out
In light of the 1-0 defeat on their own patch in San Jose Costa Rica’s head coach Rene Simoes choose to concentrate his post match comments on his side’s second half improvement.
“In the first half our form was poor but in the second half, even with ten men, we matched Uruguay all over the pitch.” Simoes said. “If we had played the first half the same way as we played after the break we would have seen a different result.”
Going into the return leg the Brazilian manager, who coached Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup in France, urged the Costa Rican public not to give up on their team just yet.
“We must believe we can qualify, this is not over. This is a match over 180 minutes and we find ourselves 1-0 down at half time.” Simoes added. “This is not all over. In 1950, Uruguay won the World Cup in the Maracana. Why can’t we win at the Centenario?”
Costa Rica’s boss at the 1998 World Cup Bora Milutinovic sees the potential for an upset on Wednesday night.
“Costa Rica have a very fine coach in Rene Simoes.” Milutinovic said about his fellow Brazilian. “I see his players in a good frame of mind right now and they are working extremely hard for each other.”
Another former hero of Los Ticos, Paulo Wanchope was also quick to defend the chances of his country sneaking into the World Cup finals in South Africa.
“On paper Uruguay are favourites but it is not impossible.” Wanchope said. “I believe we can do it and that we have the players to beat Uruguay. We have a magnificent chance to go to the World Cup.”
November 14 Costa Rica 0 – 1 Uruguay
October 14 Uruguay 0 – 1 Argentina
October 10 Ecuador 1 – 2 Uruguay
September 9 Uruguay 3 – 1 Colombia
September 5 Peru 1 – 0 Uruguay
November 14 Costa Rica 0 – 1 Uruguay
October 14 United States 2 – 2 Costa Rica
October 10 Costa Rica 4 – 0 Trinidad and Tobago
September 9 El Salvador 1 – 0 Costa Rica
September 5 Costa Rica 0 – 3 Mexico
Uruguay won’t need any reminders to keep their eye on the ball on Wednesday night as the nation has recent experience of the potential pitfalls of World Cup playoff games. Despite beating Australia to advance to the 2002 tournament they lost to the same opponents at this stage four years ago.
“We are a little closer after Saturday but we have not qualified yet.” Tabarez said. “Its time to knuckle down and get the result we need.
With this in mind expect Uruguay to field their strongest possible line-up from their fully fit squad. European based players including Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Fernando Muslera, Martin Caceres and Carlos Valdez will all start as Uruguay look to take the last remaing World Cup spot in South Africa.
Diego Perez is likely to replace Alvaro Fernandez while Nicolas Lodeiro looks set to keep his place despite being withdrawn after the hour mark in San Jose.
Costa Rican striker Froyan Ledezma saw fit to quit the team over the weekend after he complained of a lack of opportunities under coach Simoes. Azofeira will serve a suspension for his sending off in San Jose while Gilberto Martinez is ruled out through injury.
One figure coach Simoes will be pleased if he does not see again is Saturday night’s Spanish referee Undiano whose officiating the Brazilian called “scandalous”.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Diego Forlan was a class apart on Saturday in San Jose and it was his effort which led to the corner from which Uruguay got their goal. He used all his years of experience to drop deep and link midfield with attack. He won useful freekicks for Urugauy all over the park and won back possession for his team at crucial moments. The home side will need plenty of cool heads out there on Wednesday and Forlan will look to lead by example.
Walter Centeno is Los Ticos’ captain and playmaker. His combination play with Bryan Ruiz in San Jose produced all of Costa Rica’s best moments in the match and he will be looking to give it all in Montevideo on Wednesday night. Centeno is competing for the chance to play in his third consecutive World Cup finals, an achievement which would really mark him out in the Costa Rican hall of fame. If Costa Rica are awarded any freekicks in dangerous in positions then Centeno is their best bet to get them back into the tie.
The away goal, 70,000 roaring fans inside the Centenario and with undoubtedly the better squad, it would be a brave man to put any money on Uruguay not advancing from this tie. The only chink of light for Los Ticos maybe Uruguay’s reluctance to attack on Saturday once they got their goal advantage. If the home side choose to sit back again on Wednesday and invite the Costa Ricans on to them then there is a slight chance Costa Rica can level the tie. Even then it would be hard not to see Uruguay re-establishing their advantage in game.
Uruguay 1 – 1 Costa Rica, Uruguay advance to South Africa 2010 2-1 on aggregate
Tim Sturtridge, Goal.com