Uruguay confident for Copa America despite Suarez absence

Mauricio Rabuffetti

Montevideo (AFP) - The absence of Luis Suarez is casting a shadow over Uruguay's Copa America preparations but the reigning champions are in defiant mood as they attempt to defend their crown without the suspended Barcelona star.

Suarez remains sidelined from international football as he serves the final few games of his ban for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder at the World Cup last year.

The 28-year-old's suspension deprives Uruguay of one of the most potent attackers in world football, a talismanic presence who has repeatedly ridden to the rescue of La Celeste, whether it be by fair means or foul.

Uruguay captain Diego Godin acknowledged that Suarez was a "fundamental" part of the national team, but has urged the squad to "forget" the striker as they prepare to face Group B rivals Argentina, Paraguay and Jamaica.

"I'm not going to lie, the absence of Luis is important," Godin said. "He's a leader both on and off the field and he has been in spectacular form."

Nevertheless Godin believes Uruguay's habit of punching above their weight -- they have won more Copa America titles than any other side -- gives them grounds for confidence in Chile.

"We're in good form, we've got a great team and a great squad. We're confident," Godin said.

- Wind of change -

Much has changed since Uruguay showed that their run to the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup was no fluke by going on to win the 2011 Copa America in Argentina.

One of the heroes of 2011, veteran striker Diego Forlan, retired in March. Former captain Diego Lugano is also gone, having not been selected since the World Cup last year.

Coach Oscar Tabarez has also been given another headache with the injury to Juventus defender Martin Caceres.

Tabarez believes that Group B rivals Argentina will represent the strongest opposition in Chile.

"Argentina are potentially in the best shape," said Tabarez, who masterminded Uruguay's quarter-final upset of their neighbours four years ago.

Uruguay's other first round opponents are Paraguay and Jamaica, who along with Mexico are one of two teams from the CONCACAF region invited to participate in this year's tournament.

With Suarez banned and Forlan retired, Uruguay will look to Paris Saint-Germain star Edinson Cavani to provide the goalscoring threat in attack.

Cavani heads to Chile after a treble-winning season in France, relaxed about the prospect of shouldering the attacking burden of his team.

The wiry 28-year-old striker said he had discussed the Copa America with Suarez when the two teammates' paths crossed in the Champions League earlier this year.

"We talked about it after the match," Cavani said. "I told him - 'Great, now Edi will have to do it all'. And we laughed -- that's the only thing you can do.

"These things happen in football and it's just turned out that I'm going to have to take responsibility."