Nickname: La Celeste (The Sky Blue)
Rankings: 18 (FIFA), 8 (SPI)
Elite Players: Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez
Key Players: Diego Lugano, Sebastien Eguren, Nicolas Lodeiro, Fernando Muslera, Diego Godin
History: Winners – 1930, 1950 Semifinals – 1954, 1970 (15W-15L-10D)
Odds to Win World Cup: 100/1
“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” – Eduardo Galeano
Uruguay was the world’s first soccer superpower. Using a novel short-passing attack, they won gold at the Olympics in 1924 and 1928. They hosted the first World Cup in 1930 and won. After protesting the next two World Cups for political reasons, they returned in 1950 and won again, coming from behind to beat host nation Brazil 2-1 in the Maracana, the famous “Maracananzo” victory. Since then, results have been mixed.
The Uruguayans finished fourth in 1954. They had another fourth-place finish in 1970. Though they’ve won six Copa Americas, they have struggled in World Cup qualifying missing five total, including three of the last four.
Like Hungary, the Uruguayans have an impressive pedigrees and romantics would enjoy seeing them live up to it. This is the most loaded squad they have had in decades, but they are not in that tier.
Awesome Strikers: Uruguay are potent in the penalty area. Insert your sexual innuendo of choice. Diego Forlan won the European Golden Boot last season, scoring 32 goals in 33 La Liga appearances. He currently has 23 in all competitions, on a terrible Atletico Madrid team. His partner Luis Suarez is no less prolific. The 23-year-old has 45 goals in 45 games for Ajax. The Dutch league is second-tier, but that’s impressive regardless of league quality. Suarez turned down a move to Tottenham. He should have more options this summer.
Linkup Play: The strikers are great. The trouble has been getting the ball to them. Uruguay will need a breakout performance from Nicolas Lodeiro. The 20-year-old just joined Ajax in January. He has been described as the Uruguayan Messi. He’s not at the golden one’s level, but he’s the same type of player. He has superb technical skills: dribbling, passing and finishing. He uses both feet. He’s equally adept down both flanks and through the middle. He played well against Costa Rica in the playoff. Uruguay will need him to do it again.
Core Strength: Uruguay is strong defensively through the middle. Sebastien Eguren is older, but still a solid defensive midfielder. The two Diegos, Lugano and Godin, are experienced professionals with Champions League experience. Lazio’s Fernando Muslera is a hot, young goalkeeping prospect, who could be heading to Arsenal.
Inconsistency: Uruguay reminds me of Rasheed Wallace. Their talent is undeniable, yet they often struggle to play up to it. They have the ability to be great. They average out to be good. Nate Silver’s numbers project them to win Group A, but even he is skeptical. For every gutsy 2-1 win in the altitude over Ecuador, Uruguay has a 4-0 throttling at home by Brazil. It’s hard to tell which team will show up.
Attribute some of this to their coach Oscar Tabarez. “El Maestro” has a habit of tinkering with tactics and tailoring formations to thwart opponents. National teammates do not play together often. It’s hard to maintain consistent form and understanding amidst so much instability. Sometimes you need to trust your talent.
Conclusion: The first match with France is crucial. If Uruguay gets a result, the pressure is off. They can beat South Africa and advance, needing a draw, if anything, from the final match. The goal is to win the group to enter the easier knockout bracket. If they do so, a run to the quarterfinal or even the semifinal is plausible.
Random Fact: 88 percent of Uruguayans are of European White descent, the highest percentage in South America.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile