(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
This small country in South America’s southeastern portion (below the equator) is known for its sweet flag, its status as one of only 16 countries worldwide to have legalized same-sex marriage, and for its two-time World Cup-winning national football team. Uruguay won the World Cup in its first two appearances in the competition: they emerged victorious from the very first World Cup (on home soil) in 1930, and again 20 years later in Brazil, shocking the hosts with a 2-1 victory in the final. Now, 64 years after its previous triumph in this tournament, expectations are at their highest in years for los charrúas, as it will attempt to beat the odds and win it all again in Brazil. The 23-man squad and analysis below.
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martín Silva (Vasco de Gama), Rodrigo Muñoz (Libertad)
Defenders: Maximiliano Pereira (Benfica), Diego Lugano (captain) (free agent), Diego Godín (Atlético de Madrid), José Maria Giménez (Atlético de Madrid), Sebastián Coates (Liverpool), Martín Cáceres (Juventus), Jorge Fucile (Porto)
Midfielders: Álvaro González (Lazio), Álvaro Pereira (São Paulo), Walter Gargano (Parma), Egidio Arévalo (Tigres UANL), Diego Pérez (Bologna), Cristian Rodríguez (Atlético de Madrid), Gastón Ramírez (Southampton), Nicolás Lodeiro (Botafogo)
Forwards: Luis Suárez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain), Abel Hernández (Palermo), Diego Forlán (Cerezo Osaka), Christian Stuani (Espanyol)
Manager: Óscar Tabárez
2010 refresher: After failing to qualify for three of the previous four World Cups, including Germany 2006 (aside: the 2006 World Cup logo will never not freak me out), Óscar Tabárez returned to the sideline and led Uruguay to a surprising fourth place finish in 2010. Uruguay topped Group A with three wins from three games and did not concede a single goal to Mexico, South Africa, or France. After Suárez struck a late winner to eliminate South Korea in the round of 16, Diego Forlán erased a 1-0 deficit to Ghana with a 55th minute goal, and Uruguay eventually won on penalties. Holland’s 3-2 win in the semifinal ended hopes of a shock appearance in the final, but 2010 helped put Uruguay back on the footballing map.
Goalkeepers: Muslera, the former Lazio man, is Uruguay’s undisputed #1 keeper. The 27 year-old kept three clean sheets and made two key saves in the penalty shootout victory against Ghana in 2010, and he’ll hit 60 caps for the national team prior to his country’s final group fixture. What’s more, he’s helped steer Galatasaray into the Champions League knockout stage in back-to-back seasons.
Defenders: Uruguay’s backline linchpin is none other than Diego Godín. The Atlético Madrid centre-back is one of the finest such players in Europe; he possesses an extremely well-rounded game, with his strong-suits being his ability to intercept and clear. He also chipped in eight goals in all comps for league champions Atlético, including the league-clinching goal at Camp Nou and his side’s only goal in the Champions League final last week.
Diego Lugano is Uruguay’s captain, and his 93 caps are surpassed only by Diego Forlán on the national team. And Maxi Pereira is third all-time in national team appearances for Uruguay with 89. The only teenager on the squad is on the back line, and in the form of José María Giménez. The 19 year-old made only a single appearance for Atlético Madrid this past term, but he had tongues wagging at his potential in his native country. He can contribute on both sides with his tackling and heading abilities, and we could hear much more about him by the time 2018 rolls around.
Overall, with Godín, Lugano, Pereira and Cáceres, Uruguay have a very experienced back end, but only two (Godín/Pereira) were good/healthy enough to make more than appearances in all comps for their clubs. The 33 year-old Lugano made only nine appearances for West Brom this past season, although Cáceres appeared 28 times for Juve. So while there is experience, there is also uncertainty with how everyone not named Godín will hold up.
Midfielders: Only three players on this squad have scored more international goals than Cristian Rodríguez, another Atlético Madrid man; Rodríguez has eight lifetime tallies for the South American side. Elsewhere, Diego Pérez’s 89 caps tie him with…Maxi Pereira for third in lifetime appearances.
Uruguay’s midfield is not exactly loaded with attacking talent; yet, in a way, that’s no problem considering its forwards. The midfield is also younger, comparatively, as it counts Gastón Ramírez (23) and Nicolás Lodeiro (25) amongst its ranks. (Neither player appeared 20 times this term for their respective teams).
The problem lies in that the midfield isn’t terribly strong on attack or on defence; it’s just kinda there. Pérez was solid for Bologna this term, with two tackles and better than one clearance and one interception per contest, but a lot of these players were not integral to their regular clubs’ success (or lack thereof) this term.
Forwards: Now it gets fun. Other deficiencies in the squad can be overlooked when Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez are out on the pitch delivering golazos. Cavani had an at-times difficult first season in the French capital, as he adjusted to playing with Zlatan, but he did nothing to harm his status as a world-class striker, with 16 goals in Ligue 1 and his fourth consecutive season of at least 25 goals overall.
Suárez scored 31 times for Liverpool in 2013-14 and won pretty much every award the British press had to offer, and his stunning campaign helped Liverpool rise to second place in the Premier League. Nothing new really needs to be said about Suárez; he’s a devastating footballer, both when he’s scoring goals and engaging in extracurricular activities when he’s not doing the former. However, Suárez sustained a knee injury on the Premier League season’s final day, and it’s an injury from which the 27 year-old is still recovering. But I would be surprised if he is not fit and ready to go by the time Uruguay-Costa Rica kicks off in 12 days.
Remember Diego Forlán? He’s still around (barely). The 35 year-old hasn’t played in Europe in two years, and was his country’s all-time leading scorer until recently (you can guess who overtook him). The former Villarreal and Atlético Madrid star spent this past season in Japan, and he’ll be looking to conjure up a little more magic in this, his final World Cup.
(Note on the video: one of the goals belongs to Blaise Matuidi, not Cavani.)
Manager: Óscar Tabárez is pretty lucky. He has two wonderful strikers whom he could just let run amok. But Tabárez is also unlucky in that his side have a suspect back line and a “meh” midfield. El Maestro has a penchant for tinkering with formations constantly, but his hallmarks are discipline and reliance on his two top forwards. Uruguay will have to drop deep to make sure its four-man back line is protected, and the midfield can be expected to do a healthy amount of defending in its own right (or, at the very least, try really hard) while the scoring duties are handled by Cavani and Suárez.
Outlook: Uruguay are kinda the reverse of that old saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Uruguay has some very, very talented players, and the squad has experience; more than half the squad (13 players in total) have been capped 50+ times. But on the whole, this is not a *great* squad, id est, one that is capable of beating a Brazil or a Germany or a Spain. There are big questions on defence and in the midfield that need to be answered. That said, Uruguay are likely to win Group D, and if Suárez is healthy, it will play in a quarterfinal. But I wouldn’t expect more than that.