Uruguay finished fourth at World Cup 2010, so you know all about that team. Four years later they are in a tough Group D with England, Italy and Costa Rica. How much do you know about the 2014 vintage? Make it at least 10 by reading below:
It is testament to his talents as both a tactician and mentor that Óscar Tabárez, the sixty-seven-year-old Uruguayan manager, has built a team not only structured, but also self-confident—displaying a gritty but quiet fortitude that recalls the wisdom and patience of a man who briefly worked as a primary school teacher and who in 2002 took time away from a turbulent managerial career to reflect on lessons learned. Accordingly, supporters call him El Maestro, “The Teacher.”
Óscar Tabárez had two short and unsuccessful stints as a manager in Italy’s Serie A, first for Milan and later with Cagliari . Beating the Italians after he was run out of the country in ’96 and again in ‘99 would be quite the vengeance—though he would probably never admit to taking any special joy in it.
Pragmatic, well organized, opportunistic—these are the words that come to mind when pondering Uruguay’s footballing approach. La Celeste (as they’re nicknamed) let their sturdy back line and compact holding midfielders keep things tidy at the defensive end of the park, absorbing pressure until a counter attacking opportunity presents itself. This is not to say that Uruguay crowds the box or plays negative football, only that the blue-shirted South Americans prefer to remain un-stretched. They play methodical football, the success of which is not predicated upon dominating possession, and they have a trio of talisman in Suárez, Edinson Cavani, and Diego Forlán (likely relegated to a role as late-game substitute) who are more than capable of finding and exploiting the tiniest of defensive vulnerabilities.
Fernando Muslera might be the best goalkeeper no one knows or talks much about. One reason for his anonymity is that he plies his trade in the less visible Turkish Super League. But his knack for timely penalty saves might win him a few extra head-turns in Brazil.
Four years ago, Diego Lugano was voted the best captain at the World Cup. His career since has been less acclaimed. He was recently dumped by the nearly relegated EPL side West Bromwich Albion—the last of three short-lived European affairs since his 125-cap stretch with Fenerbahçe. Still, the scrappy Lugano would sacrifice life and limb for his countrymen, and for that he is loved. Unfortunately, the oft-injured general might actually have to if his aging back line is to keep clean sheets against a dangerous Italy team and an increasingly confident England squad.
If Suarez is healthy, the still imaginative but slowing 35-year-old Forlan may be pushed out of his usual forward position and into an attacking midfield role. Its a potential move that might spark a bit more flair in the middle of the park—or just confuse everything.
Luis Suarez has been swimming in goals for the last several months, setting a club record for Liverpool with 31 last season. Voted the EPL’s best player, and surely one of the best in the world, Suarez is an entertaining foil to the patience of Messi and flamboyant showmanship of Ronaldo, preferring to score through sheer determination of will rather than extravagant trickery.
Luis Suarez has an endless motor, and his near-constant darting runs and remarkable ability to dribble not around but straight through defenders is maddening for the opposition. But his passion sometimes gets the best of him. He started his most recent EPL season suspended for having bitten—unprovoked—the arm of Branislav Ivanovic the season prior. In South Africa, Suarez infamously helped his national compadres dispatch Ghana by handballing a free kick off the goal line. An apparent angel off the pitch but a devil on it, Suarez is the most likely Uruguayan to pare light blue with red in Brazil.
Their best eleven boast quality and experience, but they are only one or two injuries away from being a rather big question mark. What’s more, they don’t currently have midfielder who’s proven creative enough to forge a solid back-to-font connection. Even the most prolific of strikers can’t score if they don’t get the ball.
With a fourth place finish in South Africa, followed by a dominant display en route to a Copa America crown in 2011, the Uruguayans are riding high (even despite a slip in form during the always grueling World Cup qualifying campaign in CONMEBOL). But even escaping their group is a daunting task, with a two younger, pacey teams in England and Italy—sides that because they rarely overcommit are less susceptible to Uruguay’s counter-attacking style. Uruguay may be the most attractive stallion in the stable of dark horses, but are befuddling odds makers. They could go deep—or flop. Only two of Uruguay’s players enter in truly great form (Suarez and Cavani), with their experienced back line having lost a step or two since 2010. This team will need goals to go deep, and if Suarez fails to recover from minor knee surgery in time for tournament kickoff, La Celeste could disappoint.