hat-trick scorer Lionel Messi will be looking to take up where
he last left off as Argentina captain when he leads his country
against Ecuador in a 2014 World Cup qualifier on Saturday.
Messi scored his first and only hat-trick for Argentina in a
3-1 friendly win away to Switzerland in February so pasting over
cracks in coach Alejandro Sabella's defence.
Right-back Pablo Zabaleta pointed to the imbalance of an
Argentina side with a world class group of forwards but a
rearguard short of choice in full backs and quality in central
"To have Leo [Messi], Pipa [Gonzalo Higuain] and Kun [Sergio
Aguero] gives you maximum security," Zabaleta said.
"Up front we have great power, the strongest point in this
national team and let's hope they get chances and put them
away," he told reporters after a practice.
Argentina meet Ecuador at the River Plate stadium
as co-leaders of the South American group with Uruguay and
Venezuela, who meet at the Centenario in Montevideo.
After four matches, the trio have seven points although Copa
America holders Uruguay have a game in hand.
Uruguay, ranked third by FIFA, will not take Venezuela
lightly having paid a price when they were beaten 3-0 at home in
2004 by the region's one-time whipping boys.
Much-improved Venezuela were Copa America semi-finalists for
the first time last year when Uruguay won the trophy in
Uruguay, too, are much improved from the days when they had
to play off against a team from another continent before booking
World Cup tickets in 2002 and 2010.
"Let's hope it isn't as tough this time. We're on the right
track. In any case all the teams are very even... we hope not to
end up like the last times, suffering and doing sums," striker
Luis Suarez told reporters.
The top four teams in the three-year, 16-match qualifying
campaign go through to the 2014 finals in Brazil with the
fifth-placed team playing off against an Asian nation. Brazil
are exempt from qualifying as hosts.
Colombia, with four points from three matches and looking to
qualify for the first time since 1998, are away to Peru in Lima with Argentine Jose Pekerman making his debut
as their coach.
Messi and Aguero were partly responsible for their
compatriot's appointment, their goals in Argentina's 2-1 away
win over Colombia in their last qualifier in November earning
coach Leonel Alvarez the sack.
Peru, with three points, have not reached the finals since
1982 but a surprise third place at the Copa America with a squad
depleted by injuries, following an upset quarter-final win over
Colombia, has raised their hopes.
Injuries are plaguing coach Sergio Markarian's plans again
with strikers Claudio Pizarro out and Jeferson Farfan doubtful.
"In the face of this adversity, I think the Peru team can
overcome them. At the Copa America important players were also
injured and in the end we had a good cup," striker Paolo
Guerrero told reporters.
Chile, who like Ecuador have six points, visit bottom team
Bolivia (one point) at the Hernando Siles in the thin air of La
The Chileans have spent a week preparing in the northern
city of Calama which, at 2,650 metres above sea level is only
1,000 metres lower than La Paz as they seek a third consecutive
qualifying win in the Bolivian capital.
Paraguay, with four points from four matches, have a bye
until the next round of matches the following weekend.
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