Winners of football’s biggest prize in 1930 and 1950, Uruguay has undoubted pedigree at international level and will be making its 11th appearance at a World Cup finals in South Africa. Having finishing fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying and successfully negotiated a play-off clash with Costa Rica, Oscar Tabarez’s side very nearly didn’t secure a place in this summer’s showpiece but, now drawn in what should be a closely-fought Group A, will be confident of progressing to the second round.
Under Tabarez Uruguay have adopted a loose 4-3-1-2 formation which sees a flat back four protected by an bank of three central midfielders whilst, further up the pitch, young playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro pulls the strings behind an experienced front two of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. The 4-3-1-2 can be simply adapted to become a 4-4-2 when Tabarez feels the need to sit back or protect a lead, with Lodeiro being dropped deeper to join the midfield three. Although there are a number of talented individuals in the current Uruguayan side, this is a team designed with the collective very much in mind, a system employed to provide defensive solidity whilst affording the creative talents of Lodeiro, Forlan and Suarez the maximum possible freedom.
Walter Gargano and Diego Perez, the two most defensively-minded players in the midfield trio, work hard to create the space for the prodigiously talented Lodeiro to have time on the ball and fashion chances for the team’s prolific strike partnership. Alvaro Pereira and Perez also drift wide as Uruguay attack, becoming temporary wingers, broadening the midfield bank and stretching the opposition at the same time. This flexibility in the middle of the field makes La Celeste a particularly dangerous proposition for any team attempting to strangle their creativity in the middle of the pitch.
At the back, Tabarez has a wealth of experience to draw upon with the likes of Diego Lugano, Jorge Fucile, Maxi Pereira and Diego Godin all plying their trade in Europe and sharing 139 international caps between them. This battle-hardened back line gives Uruguay a solid platform upon which to build an effective attacking unit higher up the pitch, giving an added security and confidence to the team. A group of disciplined and yet cultured defenders, Uruguay conceded just 20 goals throughout its 18 games in CONMEBOL qualification and should be confident of handling the threats posed by the group opponents in South Africa.
As well as having an impressive and well-balanced first eleven, Uruguay is also a team with tremendous strength in depth. Edinson Cavani, the man likely to be Tabarez’s third-choice striker this summer, has been in tremendous form for Palermo this season, scoring 11 goals in Serie A and impressing with his intelligence and guile in attack. Similarly, Catania’s Jorge Martinez and Villarreal’s Sebastian Egueren will be pushing for starting places and provide the team with excellent replacements should La Celeste suffer any injuries.
With France and Mexico drawing most of the attention, the Uruguayans may be unfancied to progress from Group A but could well spring what would be a relatively minor surprise by usurping either Mexico or what is a relatively poor France side to progress to the last sixteen. This is a pragmatic and well-organised team and, with an intelligent manager and talented group of players, should be confident of producing a good showing this summer.
Probable starting XI: Muslera (Lazio); M Pereira (Benfica), Godin (Villarreal), Lugano (Fenerbahce), Fucile (Porto); Perez (Monaco), Gargano (Napoli), A Pereira (Porto); Lodeiro (Ajax); Forlan (Atletico Madrid), Suarez (Ajax)
The Road to South Africa: 5th place in CONMEBOL qualification – CONCACAF/CONMEBOL play-off winners
World Ranking: 18th