Lionel Messi is probably the best footballer in the world, and Brazil has South America's deepest pool of young talent, but Uruguay seems to be establishing themselves as the best team in South America. At this point, what's the argument against them? They were the best-finishing South American team at the 2010 World Cup, they won the 2011 Copa America, and they're currently leading the way in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. They don't have the central midfield quality of Brazil and Argentina, but their back line, wingbacks and forwards compare favorably.
They're heavy favorites to continue their romp through South American qualifying with another win on Saturday against Venezuela, but the contest might not be as lopsided as it appears to the casual observer. Venezuela, once the continent's whipping boys, have improved significantly and are a legitimate threat to beat one of South America's established sides to a qualifying place.
Securing Athletic Bilbao defender Fernando Amorebieta -- who was born in Venezuela but immigrated to the Basque Country as a child -- has been massive. He's formed a fantastic central defense partnership with Oswaldo Vizcarrondo that allows Venezuela to compete with any team in the world, both because of their defending and their attacking threat on set pieces.
The problem for Venezuela is that they're lacking in the place where Uruguay is vulnerable, the center of midfield. Teams with an extremely strong center can cause problems for the Celeste, but Venezuela don't have the players to challenge Diego Perez, Walter Gargano and Arevalo Rios. Their defenders might make life hard for Uruguay's famed front three, but they should be able to score at least once or twice.
Expect Venezuela to give Uruguay a tough game, but also expect to see Alvaro and Maxi Pereira dominating the flanks. Their presence will be the biggest difference between the two sides in this match, and their ability to run the sidelines by themselves while creating opportunities for their front three should guide Uruguay to a victory. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday in Montevideo.