Argentina won't take foot off throttle

By Rex Gowar

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina will not hold back despite having already qualified for the World Cup finals or lost four top players including Lionel Messi to injury when they host Peru in a qualifier on Friday.

Coach Alejandro Sabella also will be without Gonzalo Higuain, Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano, normal shoe-ins to his first choice team, for the match at the Monumental (2300 GMT) and their last qualifier away to Uruguay next Tuesday.

Argentina's goal is to win the South American group as a reaction to the difficulties they had to qualify under former coach Diego Maradona four years ago for the 2010 finals in South Africa, winger Angel Di Maria said on Tuesday.

"That time no-one gave us anything, we had to fight to the bitter end. In this series we're going to do the same and try to get the (remaining) six points to be champions of the qualifiers," said Di Maria, who with Messi, Higuain and Sergio Aguero is part of Argentina's potent attacking quartet.

"Before the match with Paraguay we talked about wanting to depend only on ourselves, feel the responsibility of winning and being at the World Cup. We did it and it was a good feeling for all of us," he told reporters after practice at the Ezeiza training complex on the outskirts of the capital.

Four years ago Maradona's team went into the corresponding two qualifiers against Peru and Uruguay with qualification in the balance.

A dramatic victory in a downpour, secured with a late winner by substitute Martin Palermo and memorably celebrated by the overweight Maradona diving onto the waterlogged Monumental pitch, eased the tension.

Four days later, Argentina sneaked into the tournament in South Africa with a 1-0 win over Uruguay at the Centenario in Montevideo and Maradona insulted Argentine reporters who had dared to doubt his abilities as national team coach.

Sabella's team, in contrast, coasted into the 2014 finals in Brazil with a 5-2 victory over Paraguay in Asuncion last month and two matches to spare, taking the pressure off the visit of eliminated Peru and the trip to Uruguay.

Argentina have 29 points from 14 matches, three points more than Colombia, who need one point from Friday's match at home to Chile to secure their first ticket to the finals for 16 years.

Chile have 24 points and Ecuador (22) are in the other two automatic qualifying places with Uruguay, also on 22, in the berth for a playoff with Jordan.

Uruguay visit Quito for a key clash with the Ecuadoreans on Friday.

(Editing by John Mehaffey/Greg Stutchbury)


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