Uruguay became the 32nd and final team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, one of just seven teams to lift the World Cup trophy, Uruguay have done it twice – albeit those successes are firmly rooted in history: at the inaugural tournament on home soil in 1930 and then again 20 years later when they shocked the hosts in Brazil. Although they have only qualified for one of the previous four World Cups, Uruguay has an upbeat attitude despite being placed into a difficult group. They’ve been drawn alongside such renowned powers in world football as 1998 champions France, and usual qualifiers Mexico, not to mention the tricky business of facing off against the South African hosts.
Tabarez is a coach whose reputation precedes him, and the esteem in which he is held in South American football circles has earned him the nickname El Maestro. Having coached at club level in Colombia, Argentina, Italy, Spain and his native Uruguay, the manager holds the reins of the national team for a second time since his initial stint from 1988 to 1990. He led Uruguay to their last win in the World Cup – a late 1-0 victory over South Korea at Italy 90 that sent them into the second round. Since taking over three years ago, he has orchestrated a sustainable youth system and marked a path forward for a revival in Uruguayan football.
Just as they did in 2001 and 2005, Uruguay finished fifth in the ten-team qualifying group, which meant yet another play-off. However, unlike four years ago, when they were eliminated by Australia, the Uruguayans were this time pitted against Costa Rica, the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF Zone. The South Americans gained the upper hand in the first leg in San Jose, winning 1-0 with a goal by captain Diego Lugano. Four days later they completed the job in Montevideo, with Sebastian Abreu, one of the few survivors from Korea/Japan 2002, scoring in a 1-1 draw. In the group phase, Los Charrúas scored 28 goals in all, the third-highest tally behind Brazil and Chile, and collected 24 points. Those figures were almost good enough for an automatic qualification slot. A top-four place would have been theirs had they beaten neighbors Argentina at home on the final match day. As it turned out, their rivals from the other side of the River Plate snatched a 1-0 win to condemn them to their now customary fate.
The Uruguay side features a mix of youthful players and household names and is led by the authoritative figure of Diego Lugano. The latest in a long line of temperamental, strong-willed Uruguayan skippers, the blond centre-half likes to combine his defensive duties with often-profitable forays into the opposing penalty box. Up front, La Celeste can count on a fearsome strike partnership formed by Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. The Atletico Madrid striker is another veteran of Korea/Japan 2002 and has put together an impressive CV during his time in Europe. His sidekick Suarez is busy making a name for himself with Ajax Amsterdam, taking over the captaincy after barely two years with the Dutch giants. Together the duo scored 12 goals in the qualifiers.
Group A will prove a hard test for all 4 teams. France and Uruguay are the stronger teams on paper, with Mexico not falling too far behind. Uruguay’s strong defense and great attack, with Forlan in great form following his 2 goals in the Europe league final may prove too strong for Mexico and South Africa. The first game will decide the group winner but I don’t see Uruguay getting past the 2nd round.
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