32 Teams in 32 Days: Uruguay
Each day between May 10 and the day before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 11, FoxSoccer.com analyst Jamie Trecker will preview each of the 32 teams playing in South Africa and tell you everything you need to know about each nation represented at the world's greatest sporting event.
Nickname: La Celeste. Also called the Charruas (after an indigenous tribe)
Once one of the great soccer nations, Uruguay is today an afterthought. This is a bitter coda for a country with deep European roots, and a hard-fought legacy as the first winners of the World Cup. Uruguay once was synonymous with football. Today, it is a relic.
Nestled between far bigger Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is also the most prosperous and most developed nation in South America. Located on the Atlantic seaboard, the nation has spectacular geography, a wonderful climate, and is known for having the highest quality of life on the continent.
It's also tiny. Just 3.5 million people live there. Here's a stat for you: the state of Connecticut has more people.
Uruguay is by far the smallest nation ever to win the trophy, and, given their lack of resources, Uruguay's success then — and their continued, if fleeting, relevance in South American football today — is astonishing.
Soccer here is considered a birthright. The fact that Uruguay's teams and clubs are now badly faded is a bitter blow to a nation that considers itself as much a part of Europe as France or Spain does. Uruguayans wonder if their early success was some sort of cosmic joke, placing their nation on the map only to wipe it off.
This is too bad, because Uruguay has a lot going for it. It's a gorgeous place to visit, has great food and a vibrant arts and literary scene. In many ways, it's top dog on the continent … just not in what many Uruguayans feel matters most.
PAST WORLD CUP SUCCESS: Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup ever played, in 1930. They followed that up by winning in 1950 against bitter rivals Brazil, still regarded as the biggest upset in a final. This is their 11th appearance in the finals; their most recent foray was in 2002 when they failed to get out of the first round. Best finish in the modern era was in 1990, when they made the knockout stage. They finished fourth in the 1997 King Fahd Cup, which is now called the Confederations Cup.
REGIONAL SUCCESS: Lots. Perennial contenders in the Copa America, they are 14-time champions. Most recently, they finished 4th in 2007; they won their last championship back in 1995.
LEAGUE OVERVIEW: The 16-team Primera. It's 110-years old, and it's seen better days. Top clubs are Nacional, Penarol and Defensor. Like many South Americans league, it is a two-stage competition with an Apertura and Clausura. The league also suffers from money problems (it doesn't have much) and hooliganism (it has too much). Like many South American leagues, it bleeds players to Europe. Uruguay tried to stop this by switching to a European season in 2005, but it failed. The tournament reverted for the 2008-09 season.
MANAGER: Oscar Tabarez. This is his second stint with Uruguay — he was the manager of the team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He's got a long track record, including stints with AC Milan, Boca Juniors and Velez Sarsfield.
KEY PLAYERS: They don't have a lot. Fucile (Porto) was one of the better players on a scattershot Porto team; he's a defender who roams forward and can create. He'll line up with Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce), a solid centerback who was at one time considered the continent's best. Striker Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid) is the big name; he's deadly but mercurial. Sebastian Abreu (Botafogo) is really showing his age, but he'll be on the roster because he still scores goals. Luis Suarez is going to get a look because of his play at Ajax; he's got a deft touch but a hot temper.
FIFA RANKINGS: 18th. A tad high. Highest was 12th (1994), lowest was 56th (1998).
FIRST ROUND OPPONENTS: France, Mexico, South Africa
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST FRANCE: They've met five times, twice in the group stages of the Cup. In 2002, they played to a 0-0 draw at Busan; in 1966 Uruguay edged the French 2-1 in London. Their other meetings were friendlies. The most recent was in 2008, at St. Denis, where they played to a 0-0 draw.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST MEXICO: Uruguay has a 7-7-3 edge lifetime against Mexico, having played them 17 times since 1952. That comes with a warning: Mexico has never lost a meaningful game to this team. The two sides met at the Cup in 1966, playing to a scoreless draw. The most recent match saw Mexico shock Uruguay in the third place game of the 2007 Copa America 3-1.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA: Uruguay has never lost to South Africa, beating them 4-3 in a wild 1997 Confed Cup game, and drawing with them 0-0 at Johannesburg in a 2007 friendly.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: They had to face Costa Rica in a playoff as the fifth-place team in CONMEBOL. They almost missed out with a final-day loss to Argentina, but were saved when Chile beat Ecuador.
PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO PROGRESS: 15%. I'd rate them higher if they could defend, but they haven't demonstrated any ability to link up back-to-front. On paper, they're not as good as France, probably weaker than Mexico and will have a tough game against the hosts.
TO WATCH: How many goals they concede. If they can keep it close, Uruguay can wear down an opponent. If they get behind, gaps open up right away, and they can be put to the sword.
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Lazio), Juan Castillo (Deportivo Cali), Martin Silva (Defensor Sporting)
Defenders: Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce), Diego Godin (Villarreal), Andres Scotti (Colo Colo), Jorge Fucile (FC Porto), Martin Caceres (Juventus), Mauricio Victorino (Universidad de Chile), Maximiliano Pereira (Benfica)
Midfielders: Walter Gargano (Napoli), Egidio Arevalo Rios (Penarol), Sebastian Eguren (AIK Stockholm), Diego Perez (Monaco), Alvaro Pereira (FC Porto), Alvaro Fernandez (Universidad de Chile), Jorge Rodriguez (River Plate), Alvaro Gonzalez (Nacional), Ignacio Gonzalez (Valencia), Nicolas Lodeiro (Ajax)
Forwards: Luis Suarez (Ajax), Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Abreu (Botafogo), Edinson Cavani (Palermo), Jorge Martinez (Catania), Sebastian Fernandez (Banfield)
TOMORROW'S TEAM: Ivory Coast