What can Uruguay do for an encore? In 2010, La Celeste caught a lot of people off-guard with their magical run to the World Cup semifinals, where they lost to the Netherlands. Some called their fourth-place showing a fluke, but Uruguay followed that up by winning the 2011 Copa America title, reasserting itself as a world power in the global game, and not merely a side clinging to past glories and faded memories of World Cups won in 1930 and 1950. Don’t let their rather laboured qualifying campaign fool you—while Brazil and Argentina are still the superpowers in South America, Uruguay isn’t far behind, and Oscar Tabarez’s team is more than capable of another final four appearance at next summer’s tournament.
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Rodrigo Munoz (Libertad)
Defenders: Maximiliano Pereira (Benfica), Diego Lugano (West Bromwich Albion), Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Martin Caceres (Juventus), Jorge Fucile (Porto)
Midfielders: Alvaro Gonzalez (Lazio), Alvaro Pereira (Sao Paulo), Walter Gargano (Parma), Egidio Arevalo Rios (Morelia), Diego Perez (Bologna), Cristian Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton), Nicolas Lodeiro (Botafogo)
Forwards: Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (Paris St Germain), Abel Hernandez (Palermo), Diego Forlan (Cerezo Osaka), Christian Stuani (Espanyol)
One of the longest-serving managers in world football, Oscar Tabarez has been at the helm of the Uruguayan side since 2006. In that time he’s built garra—a gritty, tough brand of soccer—into Uruguay’s DNA. His teams aren’t pretty, but they know how to win.
4-4-2 (GK) Muslera – (D) Pereira, Lugano, Godin, Caceres – (M) Stuani, Lodeiro, Ramirez, Rodriguez – (F) Suarez, Cavani
Group D schedule
June 14: vs. Costa Rica in Fortaleza
June 19: vs. England in Sao Paulo
June 24: vs. Italy in Natal
How they qualified
The South American qualifiers are a long and arduous slog—a two-year marathon that tests teams’ endurance. World Cup semifinalists in 2010, Uruguay was expected to claim one of the four automatic berths up for grabs in South America, and their strong start (three wins and two draws) suggested they’d qualify with ease. But a 4-0 loss in Colombia on matchday seven sent La Celeste into a bit of a tail spin, as they went on to drop points in each of their next five games. Lucky for them that Venezuela couldn’t take advantage, and they held on for fifth place in CONMEBOL. Lady luck shone on Uruguay even more when they were drawn against Jordan in the intercontinental playoffs. The Asian nation was duly dispatched 5-0 on aggregate, and Uruguay snuck into the World Cup.
Uruguay’s strength is in its attack. By which I mean “in Luis Suarez.” Sure, Diego Forlan is no slouch—he won the golden ball at the 2010 World Cup as best player—but at 35 he’s past his prime. And Edinson Cavani is a world-class talent. But these days as Suarez goes, so goes Uruguay. Perhaps the best striker on Earth right now, Suarez was unstoppable all year for Liverpool, and scored 11 goals in qualifying—the most in South America. On the other hand…
Inconsistency plagued Uruguay throughout qualifying. On the one hand they managed to bang four past a very talented Chile; on the other they only just squeaked into the playoff spot at the very end; on still another hand (bear with me) that squeaker at the end came by way of a win over Argentina. They got away with it in qualifying, but in the World Cup itself they won’t have 16 games to work with, so they’d better find their form right away.
Players to watch
Luis Suarez: He just can’t stop scoring. Thirty-one goals in 33 Premier League games for Liverpool this year—10 more than his nearest competitor, who happens to be a teammate and owes many of his goals to Suarez’s less heralded creative gifts.
Edinson Cavani: Where Suarez is tricky and creative in front of goal, Cavani is powerful and more adept at back-to-goal hold-up play. Like Suarez, he’s a natural finisher who gets goals by the hatful.
Diego Godin: Part of Atletico Madrid’s impregnable defence this year he can’t quite match his club form with his countrymen, but he’s still a solid defender and a goal threat with his heading skills on set pieces.
Will Suarez be fit in time? That’s the question all of Uruguay is asking. After tweaking his knee in training, the team’s talisman needed surgery to repair his meniscus. If he makes it—even if he makes it back for two group games—Uruguay’s chances of reaching the round of 16 improve significantly. It seems likely he’ll play against England in that second match. Whether he’ll be fully fit and stay fit is anyone’s guess.
Prospects in Brazil
This is a tough group, but Uruguay (with Suarez) are strong enough and will be buoyed by strong enough support that they look good to finish second behind Italy. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. They have the feel of a team that will sink or swim on individual performances, if they get them the quarters are a possibility, if not they’ll crash and burn in the round of 16.
World Cup history
The first hosts (in 1930) and first winners in World Cup history, Uruguay has history on their side—it was they who broke Brazilian hearts by winning the World Cup at the Maracana in 1950. They’ve fallen off since, reaching only eight of a possible 15 tournaments since 1950, but they surprised many by finishing fourth in South Africa.
• 1934 to 1938—Did not enter
• 1954—Semifinals (fourth place)
• 1958—Did not qualify
• 1962—First round
• 1970—Semifinals (fourth place)
• 1974—First round
• 1978 to 1982—Did not qualify
• 1986 to 1990—Second round
• 1994 to 1998—Did not qualify
• 2002—First round
• 2006—Did not qualify
• 2010—Semifinals (fourth place)
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States