Nickname: La Celeste
Schedule: June 14 vs. Costa Rica, June 19 vs. England, June 24. vs. Italy
World Cup History: Winner (1930, 1950), Semifinals (1954, 1970, 2010), Quarterfinals (1966), Round of 16 (1986, 1990)
Rankings: FIFA (6), SPI (8)
Winning Odds: 33-1
Uruguay reached the 2010 World Cup semifinals. Luis Suarez just had a monster season at Liverpool. The tournament will be played in South America. Put it all together and you have…World Cup destiny?
Qualifying Form: Disappointing. Uruguay had an abysmal stretch from Sept. 2012 through March 2013. They played six matches, earned a total of two points and were outscored 15-3. They rebounded, winning four of their last five to reach the fifth-place playoff, and beat Jordan 5-0 on aggregate to qualify through the back door.
Coach: Oscar Tabarez. The 67-year-old Uruguayan has made multiple stops throughout South America and Italy. He has had two stretches with the national side. In his first, he took Uruguay to the knockout round at Italia 90. Taking back over in 2006, he guided Uruguay to the 2010 World Cup semifinals and a win in the 2011 Copa America.
Tactics: Tabarez changes formations between games and within games, depending on a number of factors and whims. Generally, Uruguay fields something resembling a 4-4-2. They play a four-man back line (most often), fronted by two robust, tackling midfielders. Two more attacking wingers join them, with two strikers up front. They drop deep, protecting a creaky back line, and rely on their strikers to create.
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Player to Watch: Luis Suarez. He has a history of racism. He can use his prominent overbite to full effect. He’s, without question, one of the best and most exciting players on this planet. Suarez scored 31 goals in 33 starts for Liverpool last season. He scored 11 in 13 starts for Uruguay during qualifying. He also tweaked his knee in training, and needed surgery right before the World Cup. Whether he will play and at what percentage level is perhaps the greatest question facing a tournament-bound team.
Squad: A veteran crew, perhaps too veteran. Twenty of the 25 preliminary squad members are 27 or older. Sixteen have at least 40 caps. That’s good in a sense. Many of these players are battle-tested, both at club and international tournaments. But, that also means likely appearances from Diego Lugano (four different clubs since the 2010 World Cup, has played more often for Uruguay in recent season) and Diego Forlan (35, in semi-retirement in Japan, last a factor in 2011).
Uruguay’s defense is, you guessed it, experienced. Expect Lugano to pair with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin, who scored in the Champions League Final. Some combo of Pereira, Fucile and Caceres will give them a seasoned fullback pairing. The, again experienced, central midfield will set out to cover the defense. They have not been so successful at it. Uruguay allowed 25 goals in 16 qualifying matches (the same number they scored) and kept just two clean sheets.
The Uruguayans can be a bit more adventuresome on the wings, with players such as Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Rodriguez. But the bulk of their threat comes from having two elite forwards, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The pair combined for 17 of Uruguay’s 25 goals in qualifying. La Celeste will need top caliber performances from both and, probably will need one to assume the added burden of linking defense and attack.
Group Outlook: This Uruguay team peaked in 2010/11. Their run to the semifinal was fun, but the result of an easy draw. They did not beat a strong European or South American opponent. Their wins came against South Africa, Mexico, South Korea and Ghana (on penalties, with the hand of Suarez). Neither England nor Italy is offering its best vintage in 2014. But both have demonstrably stronger squads top to bottom. Uruguay needs a dominant tournament from Suarez. He may not be fully fit until the knockout round, if they even get there.
Notable WAG: Uruguayan players seem to have a bit of trouble limiting themselves to just one woman. So, we’ll just give you a run down of Diego Forlan’s last few years (that we know about). He had a long term relationship with Argentine model Zaira Nara (pictured right). He broke off their engagement, and was later seen dating Uruguayan model Victoria Saravia. Last year, he married Paz Cardoso. There are the Facebook pictures to prove it.
[Photos via Getty, Facebook]