Latin America

Fryer: Rios the gem in Uruguay crown

Arevalo Rios Uruguay
Alevalo Rios has been pivotal in Uruguay's run to the Copa America final
FOX Soccer.com RUPERT FRYER
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Most of the plaudits for Uruguay's run to the World Cup semi-final in South Africa last year went the way of FIFA Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan or La Celete's saviour in its quarter-final against Ghana, Luis Suarez.

Semifinals, Jul. 19
Peru 0-2 Uruguay | Recap
Semifinals, Jul. 20
Paraguay 0-0(5-3 on pk's) Venezuela | Recap
Third Place, Jul. 23
Peru 4-1 Venezuela | Recap
Final, Jul. 24
Uruguay vs. Paraguay

But some 30 yards or so behind the glamour boys of Uruguayan soccer sat a squat, corpulent little midfielder who epitomized his team's dogged display from the first whistle in its opener against France. He may stand just 5'6", but Arevalo Rios strikes a figure as intimidating as men twice his size. "When we enter the pitch we know that we will fight for ourselves, our families and all who support us," he says.

Born January 1st 1982, Egidio Arevalo Rios made his professional debut in 1999 with his hometown team in Paysandu – to which he retuned to pick up the local sports writers' Sportsman of the Year award last year – before moving to the big city to join Bella vista of Montevideo where he played for nearly four years; it would be by far the longest he would ever spend at any club. After yo-yoing between Uruguay and Mexico for nearly five years, he joined Botafogo in Brazil at the start of this year and agreed a two year deal with the club.

True to form, he won't be hanging around to see out his contract with them either. "There are many opportunities I have had [to leave] and my wife has not adapted well to the country," he told Super Esportes last week. "I want to be released and to go play for the club I have settled on in Mexico [Club Tijuana]." Recent reports now suggest Italy's Serie A is now his most likely destination.

His inclusion in the Uruguay squad for World Cup last year came as a surprise. He only played 44 minutes of World Cup qualifying soccer, but hit form just at the right time in the 2009-10 season, helping Penarol to its 37th league title of the professional era and earning himself a call-up to the big show.

Alevalo Rios has been pivotal to Uruguay’s run to the Copa America final. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

He had come on a substitute in Uruguay's penultimate friendly against Switzerland and made an instant impression on Oscar Tabarez, who admitted he was a little surprised with how well Rios had played. "Now he has a chance to test himself with a return to national team," said 'el Maestro'.

It was thought he would play a bit part role in South Africa, with the more attack minded Nicolas Lodeiro likely to partner Diego Perez and Walter Gargano in midfield after the youngster put in two fine performances against Costa Rica in his team's two-legged World Cup qualification playoff.

Rios, though, was given the nod for Uruguay's opening clash with France – and he hasn't missed a competitive match since. Sitting slightly left of Perez, he ate up everything around him in all seven of his side's World Cup fixtures, a stat indicative of the stability he maintains has been vital to Uruguay's recent success. "The base [of the team] is the same as was the World Cup," he told reporters last week. "We know [each other] by heart."

The 29-year-old attracted the eyes of a number of European suitors when charging around South Africa last summer, intercepting passes and flying into tackle after tackle. His work rate alongside Perez proved essential to the solid base from which Forlan and Suarez were able to shine. Only four players covered more ground than he did during South Africa 2010, with nobody doing more running off the ball. While a highly combative midfielder, he's far from your typical bruiser: Rios committed just six fouls in 660 World Cup minutes.

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  • Who will win the Copa America final?
    • Uruguay
    • Paraguay

He's already made 17 successful tackles in this year's Copa America, 10 of which Conmebol record him making when his team needed them most against Lionel Messi and Argentina in the quarter-finals.

Rios starred once again in the semis against Peru and will play a vital role against Paraguay on Sunday if Uruguay is to make history by collecting its 15th Copa America, making it the most successful team in the competition's history.

"The best thing about this team is the group [dynamic]," Rios told El Pais, this week. "There is a spectacular companionship." And nobody typifies that more than Arevalo Rios.

Rupert Fryer is a freelance soccer journalist and co-founder of SouthAmericanFootball.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter at @Rupert_Fryer.

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