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World Cup team preview: Uruguay

by Mark Lee Armstrong Smith
May 26, 2014 1:15 PM BST



Uruguayans have been dreaming about Maracanazo, The Maracana Blow, ever since it happened.
Their shock 2-1 victory in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, with 175,000 people cheering against them, fuelled the country's self-esteem and burnished the resilient character of its people.
In many ways it defines this nation of just 3.4 million people, never write off the Uruguayans.
Now they have the chance to pull off a 21st century Maracanazo and unlike the side that rehashed the semi-finals at South Africa in 2010, this new Uruguay is built around Luis Suarez.
The man who three years ago took them to a Copa America victory on Argentine soil, bagging four goals in the process, and was South America's top scorer in the qualifiers with 11.
It's time for Uruguay to show their credentials on the biggest stage once again.
Uruguay are generally better in short competitions than over the long run, but la Celeste are never discouraged - and remain optimistic after being drawn against Italy and England.
If they survive to reach the knockout rounds, Brazilians will start to sweat.
The Perception:
Unlike the 2010 World Cup, when most of the names of the Uruguay squad were unknown, there will now be no surprise factor favouring them.
This line-up Oscar Tabarez will use in Brazil has changed little, and opponents will take them more seriously this time-around.
The Reality:
Uruguay haven't changed much because they haven't needed to and after the World Cup there will be time to think about successors to Diegos Lugano and Forlan, but for now, the team has an average age of 28 and some of the squad arrive in the form of their careers.
The Boss:
Oscar Tabarez is canny, respected and a gentleman, Tabarez is betting on largely the same squad that made him weep with joy in South Africa in 2010.
"I won't change something I'm convinced of" the coach insists.
The Masterplan:
Uruguay's garra, literally 'claw' but figuratively extreme tenacity, has been the 12th man for decades but has often backfired.
Tabarez has tamed the team to aid concentration, with great attacking players, and the focus is simply on not leaving gaps at the back.
"Fighting against footballs superpowers, we have to take advantage of our chances," says Tabarez, who will see set-pieces as vital to getting goals.
Strengths:
With seven men defending as a unit, it's near-impossible to catch Uruguay by surprise on the counter-attack.
Commanded by general Arevalo Rios, their midfield moves as a line while captain Lugano instructs his defenders on when to push and when to sit back.
With Cristian Rodriguez in the side ahead of Forlan, the team has better balance.
Weaknesses:
One-on-ones confuse Uruguayan defenders and they commit fouls and struggle against pace, especially the 33 year old Lugano.
This has proved embarrassing against Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia recently and Keeper Fernando Muslera mixes crucial saves with basic errors, especially when challenged in the air.
Lessons from qualifying:
It's a tradition for Uruguay to struggle during World Cup qualifying: they finished fifth in the group and had to face Jordan in a play-off to book their ticket to Brazil.
But of all the South American nations that did qualify, only Qcuador were able to beat them.
Key Player:
You might have heard of Luis Suarez, unstoppable for his country as well as his club, the forward dynamo has snatched nearly every national record going.
Last year he became la Celeste's all-time top scorer and scored four in the destruction of Chile and he claimed it was one of the best games of his life.
He has matured at Liverpool; he is more decisive and provides more assists, and also frees up team-mates by attracting so many makers himself.
With England up second, he's set to become public enemy number one all over again.
Verdict:
They must beat either England or Italy to advance, so can't afford to drop points to Costa Rica in that tricky opener.
Qualify top of the group and they'll probably avoid Brazil until the final.