Uruguay Camp Focus – Have La Celeste run out of steam?

Facing the Netherlands was always going to be a tall order for the underdogs from Uruguay, but the inopportune timing of the team’s various injury and suspension problems has added considerable height to the mountain La Celeste must climb if they are to win a third World Cup. Oscar Tabarez’s team could be without as many as five first choice players, and even El Maestro himself – previously bullishly optimistic about his team’s World Cup chances – seems to be wondering if this is the end of the road: “I don’t know how far we can go. The Netherlands are a great side, they have brilliant players. If there is a glimmer of hope, we will not throw in the towel before we go on the pitch.

The spirit seemed written for Eredivisie top scorer Luis Suarez to wreak havoc on the nation in which he plies his trade, but he will be unavailable after his quarter-final red card. The logical solution to Suarez’s absence would have been to draft in another Netherlands-based youngster, Nicolas Lodeiro, to put his clever playmaking skills to use in the ‘enganche’ position in the hole behind Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani. However, Lodeiro’s World Cup is over after he fractured a bone in his foot against Ghana.

It now seems likely that Forlan will revert to the enganche role, where he has been most effective in this tournament, with Edinson Cavani partnered up front by either penalty hero Sebastian Abreu or the younger, quicker Sebastian Fernandez, who plays his football for Banfield in Argentina. Uruguay’s best football has come when Tabarez has used a 4-3-1-2 formation, with a well-drilled back seven allowing the front three the freedom to thrive. However, El Maestro is a naturally curious manager, and his depleted squad, coupled with the anxiety of having to deal with Arjen Robben, could lead to a switch. He may revert to the 3-4-1-2 utilised in La Celeste’s cagey opening game against France, bringing back the more defensively adept Ignacio Gonzalez to play in the hole. Another option is to retain the 4-4-2 shape deployed in the quarter final, designed to prevent Ghana from overrunning the midfield, with Cavani and Alvaro Fernandez again used as wingers.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but it could be argued that Tabarez is now paying the price for electing to omit Cristian Rodriguez and Jorge Martinez from his World Cup squad. Rodriguez – known as Cebolla, the onion, for he makes the defenders cry – would surely have offered more on the left wing in the 4-4-2 used against Ghana than a struggling, out-of-position Cavani, and would have deputised ably for his Porto club mate Alvaro Pereira. El Maestro reasoned that since Rodriguez was suspended for Uruguay’s first two group games, he would therefore be taking the place of a player who could make a more immediate impact. The further Uruguay have progressed, however, the more short-sighted and flawed that logic seems. Serie A star Martinez, similarly, would have gone some way towards filling the vacuum left by Suarez’s suspension. A versatile forward who can play either behind the strikers or as an out and out front man, Martinez offers more vision and mobility than Abreu and more of a killer instinct than Sebastian Fernandez. His omission has yet to be explained to any satisfactory degree.

Other selection headaches for the Uruguay Coach primarily concern the defence, where only right back Maxi Pereira of Tabarez’s first choice back four is guaranteed to start. Definitely out is left back Jorge Fucile, suspended following a second yellow of the tournament in the last round. Questions, meanwhile, surround the fitness of Diego Godin, who missed the Ghana game, and captain Diego Lugano has openly acknowledged that he is struggling to recover from his knee injury time for the semi-final. Mauricio Victorino and Andres Scotti performed well against Ghana, and if the two Diegos miss out, will continue their partnership at the heart of La Celeste’s defence. Left-back is an altogether thornier issue. Barcelona’s Martin Caceres can play there and offers the pace to counter balance the less than rapid Victorino/Scotti partnership. However, he has been plagued by injury over the last year, and El Maestro has not trusted his fitness enough to use him at all in this tournament so far. If Alvaro Pereira returns, Tabarez may use him at full-back or even wing-back if he opts for a 3-4-1-2. Victorino has also played there in the past, and is the most likely candidate for the role if either Godin or Lugano are declared fit.

It has been a terrific World Cup for La Celeste so far, as Oscar Tabarez has confounded his critics at every turn. There is a sense however, as the semi-final with Bert van Marwijk’s impressive Netherlands side looms, that their race may very well have been run.

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