When Uruguay’s provisional 26-man squad was whittled down to 23 last week by Coach Oscar Tabarez, few were surprised that River Plate’s Jorge Rodriguez and Nacional winger Alvaro Gonzalez were among the unlucky trio. Despite both players featuring intermittently in la Celeste’s qualifying campaign, neither man had been expected to be on the plane to South Africa. The same cannot be said, however, of the third man – Catania forward Jorge Martinez. The 27-year old had enjoyed perhaps his best season for the Sicilian side, his influence and respectable nine-goal haul helping the team to its highest ever Serie A points tally, his goals helping to defeat both Inter and Juventus en route to finishing 13th.
Martinez’s form had seen him reportedly attract the attention of Inter, Lazio and Manchester City this year. A versatile player who can play on either flank, in the hole or up front, Martinez seems to have become a victim of the sheer array of attacking talent at Tabarez’s disposal. Maybe there simply wasn’t room in the squad for the Catania star alongside the likes of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Alvaro Pereira, Nicolas Lodeiro, Edinson Cavani and Sebastian Abreu, all of whom are clearly ahead of him in ‘El Maestro’s’ thinking for the various attacking roles in the side. The same fate befell Porto Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodriguez, who failed to even make Tabarez’s provisional squad. The omissions of these two big names reveal the ruthless pragmatism of the Uruguay Coach. Deciding he wants players who are able to make an immediate impact, he has dispensed with Rodriguez – who would have been suspended for the first two group games – while Martinez’s injury problems towards the end of the season seem to have counted against him.
However, although the flair at ‘El Maestro’s’ disposal makes a mockery of the historical stereotype of Uruguay as negative cloggers, Tabarez is nevertheless taking a huge gamble in leaving out players of Martinez’s calibre. Martinez and Rodriguez could have made for high-octane impact subs should la Celeste need to change things in any one of their wide open Group A games. The Catania forward’s versatility would have made him a very useful member of any World Cup squad, and if Uruguay suffer injuries or suspensions in the first couple of matches, they could be in trouble – a concern that was underlined by the panic surrounding Forlan’s injury scare in training on Sunday, when he went down holding his foot after a collision with Walter Gargano. Forlan, fortunately, is likely to be fine to start Friday’s game with France.
Martinez’s injury worries seem to have put Tabarez off, yet elsewhere the Coach has risked selecting players of questionable fitness, most notably on-loan Juventus defender Martin Caceres, whose injury-hit campaign saw him start just 15 games all season for the Turin giants. ‘El Maestro’ even acknowledged the need to build up the fitness of particular players on announcing his final squad: “Certain players that may have arrived with less playing time like Caceres still have two weeks to improve their condition.” Yet still Tabarez could not find a way to accommodate Martinez. Admittedly, the two situations are not entirely alike – Uruguay are nowhere near as blessed defensively as they are in attack, and so arguably there was little choice but to gamble on Caceres. Some Uruguay fans however, are questioning why a little graft could not have been sacrificed – perhaps in the form of the defensively-minded, workmanlike midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios, who earned a shock recall – to allow for the options Martinez’s skill, versatility and goal threat provide.
An exciting World Cup seems to lie ahead for la Celeste, with football fans across the globe eagerly anticipating watching that thrilling forward line in action. Uruguay however, and Tabarez especially, will be hoping he is not left to rue the high profile omissions of Jorge Martinez and ‘Cebolla’ Rodriguez.