Uruguay Camp Focus – El Maestro gambles on fighting spirit

It would be hard to blame Uruguay for looking to the past. The first ever World Cup winners haven’t had much to cheer in recent decades. However, while the re-appointment of Coach Oscar ‘El Maestro’ Tabarez – the last man to guide la Celeste beyond the group stages of a World Cup finals – was unpopular in some quarters, it may just prove to be a masterstroke. For although Uruguay may have only scraped through to South Africa via the backdoor of a play-off against Costa Rica, Tabarez has assembled arguably the strongest squad since his last stint in charge some 20 years ago.

Perhaps the one area of the Uruguay team one would expect to be strong would be in defence. Combative, tough-tackling stalwarts have always been a Uruguayan trademark, embodied for so many years by Paolo Montero, and this generation is no exception. Talk of la Celeste’s “garrua charrua” or “fighting spirit” has become almost a stereotype, but it is one undoubtedly rooted in truth. Captain Diego Lugano, who plays his club football for Fenerbahce, is a born leader with a knack of popping up with crucial goals, and the presence of the equally tenacious but somewhat more cultured Diego Godin alongside him will have the team well organised at the back. Martin Caceres, who can play at centre-back or left-back, will be hoping to make his presence felt, although question marks about his fitness remain after an injury-hit season at Juventus. Tabarez also seems to have finally settled on a first choice goalkeeper, having used four during qualifying, Lazio’s Fernando Muslera being given the chance late in the campaign and showed the consistency to apparently make the gloves his own.

A traditional accusation of Uruguay teams in previous World Cups is that they have all too often sacrificed flair in the name of “garra charruas.” It is a criticism that has been levelled at Tabarez’s team, with ‘El Maestro’ set to field two holding midfielders in the form of Walter Gargano and Diego Perez. Suggestions of a dearth of creativity have been further fuelled by the surprise omission of Porto winger Cristian Rodriguez from the provisional squad. After a shaky start following a move to Benfica, ‘Cebolla’ has gradually become a big player for both club and country with his pace, fondness for shooting from distance and ability to turn a game with a moment of skill. His absence is most likely motivated purely by pragmatism on Tabarez’s part. Rodriguez still has a two match ban to serve as part of a suspension received during the qualifiers, which also saw him miss both legs of the play-off. The divisive ‘El Maestro’ has repeatedly underlined that his chief priority is getting past the group stage, recently telling World Soccer: “For me, the World Cup starts in the second phase.” Consequently, he needs players in his squad who can make an instant impact and gel as a unit, and a player who is ineligible until the final group game – by which time la Celeste could conceivably already be out – is arguably taking up valuable space in the squad.

The impact of Rodriguez’s omission is lessened by the form of his club mate Alvaro Pereira, who was a revelation on the left flank in qualifying, his bottomless energy providing a crucial outlet for la Celeste’s attacking play, his fine left footed delivery proving a valuable creative weapon. The opposite flank should be occupied by Ajax youngster Nicolas Lodeiro. Big things are expected from the former Nacional starlet, who can play either out wide or as a playmaker in central midfield or in the hole. The 21-year-old only made his debut in the play-offs against Costa Rica but has already added an extra dimension to Uruguay’s attacking play.

The striking positions are another well-stocked area. Diego Forlan is a world-class goalscorer who brings with him to South Africa a fine vein of form, his goals almost single-handedly winning the Europa League for Atletico Madrid. Alongside him is the great hope of Uruguayan football, the official ‘Next Big Thing’ – £35m-rated Luis Suarez. The Eredivisie star looks like the complete forward, with strings to his bow including a lethal strike-rate, electric pace and the ability to drop deep and turn creator for Forlan. The pair’s formidable partnership yielded 12 goals in qualifying. The major concern for la Celeste will perhaps be a lack of strength in depth in certain positions. While the starting XI has an abundance of difference-makers, an injury to Lodeiro or Pereira could leave the side worryingly unbalanced and bereft of creativity. Such an occurrence would also make the decision to leave Rodriguez at home all the more foolhardy, especially if Uruguay go into their final group game with Mexico needing a result (which is likely).

If the key men stay healthy however, Uruguay are surely in with a chance of progressing from what looks to be a wide open Group A, against the unknown quantity that is hosts South Africa and the weakest French and Mexican teams in years. La Celeste are flying under the radar, but don’t be surprised to see them burst into life.

Uruguay Provisional 30-man squad


Fernando Muslera (Lazio)
Juan Castillo ( Deportivo Cali)
Martin Silva (Defensor)


Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce)
Diego Godin (Villarreal)
Andres Scotti (Colo Colo)
Jorge Fucile ( Porto)
Martin Caceres (Juventus)
Mauricio Victorino (Universidad de Chile)


Walter Gargano (Napoli)
Egidio Arevalo Rios (Penarol)
Sebastian Eguren (AIK Stockholm)
Diego Perez ( Monaco)
Maximiliano Pereira (Benfica)
Alvaro Pereira (Porto)
Jorge Rodriguez (River Plate)
Ignacio Gonzalez (Valencia)
Nicolas Lodeiro (Ajax)
Alvaro Gonzalez (Nacional)
Alvaro Fernandez (Universidad de Chile)


Luis Suarez (Ajax)
Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid)
Sebastian Abreu (Botafogo)
Edinson Cavani (Palermo)
Sebastian Fernandez (Banfield)
Jorge Martinez (Catania)


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