By Malena Castaldi
MONTEVIDEO, April 23 (Reuters) - Copa America champions Uruguay are fifth in the FIFA rankings, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and in Luis Suarez have one of the world's deadliest strikers, but coach Oscar Washington Tabarez does not rate his side among the elite football nations.
"In football there is also a first world and a third world. We in Uruguay are not among the powers, not even in the South American region, and I think that's the reason we find the qualifiers so hard," Tabarez said on Wednesday.
Uruguay scraped into three of the last four World Cup tournaments via an intercontinental playoff having finished in the lowest qualifying berth of the South American group.
They lost the playoff for the 2006 finals in Germany.
"In recent times we've tried to face the elite national teams ... and I think that in some circumstances we've shown we can play them as equals whatever the result," the 67-year-old added.
He told international news agencies at Uruguay's training complex outside Montevideo it would be a surprise for Uruguay to reach the final in Brazil given they are a nation of 3.3 million with a limited talent pool.
Tabarez, who began his second spell in charge of Uruguay in 2006, likes to keep his players' feet on the ground by dampening expectations at international tournaments.
He goes to his third World Cup as the longest-standing coach of the 32 finalists. He also coached the team at 1990 World Cup in Italy.
Tabarez said he was working to build a solid defence from which to launch Suarez and highly-rated striker partner Edinson Cavani to give their World Cup rivals a headache.
"(We have) to make it possible for those players to be as big a headache as possible for rival defences," Tabarez said.
Uruguay, champions in 1930 and 1950, face England, Italy and Costa Rica in Group D at the June 12 to July 13 World Cup finals in Brazil.
Tabarez said England would be a hard game as the domestic league was full of international players, while four-times world champions Italy had become more possession oriented under coach Cesare Prandelli.
"To what (Italy) do when they don't have the ball, especially in defence, he (Prandelli) has placed a great emphasis on keeping the ball and shown this against leading rivals, for example against Spain at the Confederations Cup." (Additional reporting by Irene Schreiber; Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Peter Rutherford)