World Cup Preview – Uruguay
CONMEBOL (South America)
Best WC Performance: Winners x2 – 1930, 1950
Current World Ranking: 14
Perennial overachievers Uruguay round up Group A.
Despite having a population of just over three and a quarter million (making them the eighth smallest nation to play at a World Cup Finals), La Celeste are double champions and have appeared in 12 of 20 tournaments.
Winning the inaugural Finals on home turf, Uruguay boycotted the following two tournaments, before returning to ruin Brazil’s party in 1950.
In recent history, something of a “Golden Generation” of defenders and attackers has brought success back to Montevideo, with Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin and Diego Forlan all amongst the world’s best at their peaks, driving Uruguay to their first Copa America for 16 years in 2011, as well as maintaining qualification for the World Cup as other teams improve and falter.
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente).
Defenders: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol).
Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders), Gaston Ramirez (Sampdoria).
Forwards: Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Luis Suarez (Barcelona).
Vs Egypt 13:00, 15.06.18 Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg
Vs Saudi Arabia 16:00, 20.06.18 Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
Vs Russia 15:00, 25.06.18 Samara Arena, Samara
Manager – Oscar Tabarez
Known as “The Maestro”, Oscar Tabarez masterminded his fourth world cup qualification as manager of Uruguay, after 1990, 2010 and 2014.
A former defender, Tabarez had an undistinguished playing career spanning clubs across the Americas, before moving into management in 1980.
His record earnt a breakthrough into international management, and he began a first spell in charge of Uruguay in 1987. Leaving after Italia 90, Tabarez had spells in Italy before returning in 2006.
Since then, he has transformed the fortunes of the team, qualifying for each world cup since and claiming the Copa America in 2011.
Uruguay competed with nine other CONMEBOL nations for the four automatic qualifying spots. Ultimately finishing second.
A confident start was derailed by surprise package Ecuador in gameweek three, but La Celeste responded strongly to keep pace with the leaders.
After 11 matches, they were one point behind a resurgent Brazil outfit, but a run of only two wins in six meant they were in danger of missing out on the final day.
That final fixture was at home to second bottom Bolivia, and despite going 1-0 down, goals from Martin Caceres, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez saw them triumph 4-2 and seal second place.
Ultimately, they were a distant second best to Brazil, but Edinson Cavani finished qualifying as top scorer, with 10 goals.
Captain – Diego Godin
Diego Godin will Captain Uruguay at a world Cup for the second time, despite not officially being captain four years ago.
The 32-year-old deputised for Diego Lugano in three matches in Brazil but is the main man this time around.
Immense in the air, Godin scored the goal that knocked Italy out in 2014, as well as a further three in qualifying this time out.
Captain at club level also, he has been part of the Atletico defence widely considered to be the best in the world, and fans hopes will rest heavily on his orchestration of defence this summer.
Danger man – Luis Suarez
Despite being outscored by Edinson Cavani this season as well as in qualification, for me Luis Suarez remains Uruguay’s biggest attacking threat.
Now 31, the Barcelona man is Uruguay’s all-time top scorer with 50 goals, and could earn his 100th cap in Russia. Perhaps he is past his best, but he remains amongst the world’s elite.
Arguably one of the most complete strikers of all time, Suarez will surely be hoping for an incident free tournament, after a quarter-final red card in 2010 and the infamous bite on Georgio Chiellini in 2014.
Young Player – Rodrigo Bentancur
Though mainly an ageing squad, Uruguay have several young players about to burst onto the world scene, none more so than Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur.
The 20-year-old midfielder moved to the Old Lady last summer and made his first international appearance soon after. Despite not establishing himself as a regular starter in Turin, Bentancur’s displays impressed enough to see him appear in each of Uruguay’s last six matches, including starting the last five.
A skilful workhorse, expect to see Rodrigo Bentancur run Uruguay’s midfield engine this summer.
Premier League Players
Surprisingly, there will be no Premier League representation in the Uruguayan squad this year. The only Uruguayan currently playing in the Premier League is Watford defender Miguel Britos, but the 32-year-old has never been called up.
There are several players with Premier League experience however. Sebastian Coates, Martin Caceres, Guillermo Varela, Luis Suarez and Christhian Stuani all appeared in the Premier League in recent years, but none remain in England today.
Former Premier League players Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez both missed out on places in Uruguay’s final 23.
Being the only team in Group A inside the world’s top 45, on paper Uruguay should walk this group.
They are the only side with numerous world class players. Diego Godin has silenced strikers far better than any from Russia or Saudi Arabia, Luis Suarez is capable of winning matches on his own, while Edinson Cavani is in the form of his life top-scoring in Ligue 1.
Interestingly however, they have a very poor record when playing on European soil. Fixtures are rare, but La Celeste have not won in Europe since November 2012, a 3-1 friendly victory over Poland.
To rectify this, Tabarez arranged various friendlies around Europe over the last year, but they have lost them all. Italy, Rep. Ireland and Austria have all defeated Uruguay in the last 12 months.
Nevertheless, come summer I back this team to end their European hoodoo and top the group.
Written by Sam Hanys.