Diego Lugano’s 23rd-minute goal lifted Uruguay to a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica on Saturday and left the South Americans favored to reach next year’s World Cup.
The second leg of the playoff will be on Wednesday in Montevideo.
The winner of the two-game series will get the last spot at South Africa 2010 from the Americas. Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina have already advanced from South America. The United States, Mexico and Honduras are the qualifiers from North and Central American and the Caribbean.
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Costa Rica played a man short after Randall Azofeifa was sent off in the 52nd on his second yellow card.
The victory gives two-time World Cup champion Uruguay a huge edge going into the second leg. Uruguay qualified for the 2002 World Cup in a playoff with Australia, but lost a playoff four years later – also against Australia. Costa Rica has qualified directly for the last two World Cups.
COSTA RICA: Keylor Navas, Luis Marin (Rolando Fonseca, 62), Gilberto Martinez (Michael Umana, 23), Roy Miller (Junior Diaz, 77), Cristian Bolanos, Randall Azofeifa, Esteban Sirias, Celso Borges, Walter Centeno, Bryan Ruiz, Alvaro Saborio.
URUGUAY: Fernando Muslera, Diego Lugano, Diego Godin, Mauricio Victorino, Alvaro Gonzalez, Alvaro Fernandez, Sebastian Euguren, Alvaro Pereira, Nicolas Lodeiro (Jorge Rodriguez, 61), Luis Suarez (Alvaro Fernandez, 70), Diego Forlan.