Uruguay has edge in playoff with Costa Rica

Uruguay is closing in on a final World Cup spot from the Americas, and can wrap it up Wednesday at home against Costa Rica.

Uruguay defeated Costa Rica 1-0 on Saturday in San Jose, overcoming the difficult artificial turf at Saprissa Stadium. Now with the homefield advantage, Uruguay looks set to play in its first World Cup since 2002.

Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina have already advanced from South America, and the United States, Mexico and Honduras will represent the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Uruguay reached the 2002 tournament after beating Australia in a playoff, but lost to the Australians in 2006 in another playoff. Costa Rica has played in the last two World Cups.

“We are closer, but we have not qualified yet,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. “It’s time to bear down and get the result we need.”

Uruguay, which won the first World Cup in 1930 and again in 1950, is in good shape and will be at full strength for the match. The South Americans count on a half-dozen top players out of European leagues, including Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid), Luis Suarez (Ajax), Fernando Muslera (Lazio), Martin Caceres (Juventus) and Carlos Valdez (Reggina).

Tabarez has hinted he may make a few changes, including a start for Diego Perez at midfield in place of Alvaro Fernandez. Young midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro is also likely to start. He was pulled after 61 minutes in Costa Rica, struggling with the artificial turf at Saprissa.

Costa Rica has big problems.

Forward Froylan Ledezma quit the team over the weekend, complaining that he was not playing enough. The Ticos will also be without suspended midfielder Randall Azofeira and defender Gilberto Martinez, who is out with an injury.

Costa Rica’s Brazilian coach Rene Simoes put some of the blame for the first loss on Spanish referee Alberto Undiano, calling his officiating “scandalous.”

“It was impossible to beat this guy,” Simoes said.