Buenos Aires, Nov 25 (DPA) Uruguay were the last team to make it to the 2010 World Cup, but their players are looking forward to their chance of reviving the South American country’s long-gone football greatness.
Uruguay have won two editions of the prestigious global event, but they date back to 1930 and 1950.
Recent times have been marked by disappointment: of the past four editions of the World Cup, they only played one, in 2002, and even then they crashed out in the first round.
On the way to South Africa, however, Uruguay are clearly upbeat. The team led on the pitch by captain Diego Lugano and by star striker Diego Forlan got through a play-off against Costa Rica to avoid the disappointment of four years ago, when they crashed in the play-off against Australia.
Over three years, veteran coach Oscar Tabarez has built a stable team, with a mix of experienced players like Forlan, Lugano or even always-reliable substitute Sebastian Abreu and youngsters like Luis Suarez, Alvaro Pereira and keeper Fernando Muslera.
Uruguayan Football Association president Sebastian Bauza summed up the general feeling when he described qualification to South Africa 2010 as the chance “to change the image of Uruguayan football.”
And yet players and officials alike know that there is a lot of work to be done.
Uruguay only won six matches – out of 18 – in the South American qualifiers, with six draws and six defeats. Perhaps more significantly, they only managed to win one match – out of eight – against the teams that went on to qualify for the World Cup.
Tabarez admitted that there are “many things to improve.” The Uruguayan tradition of solid defending and the presence of world-class strikers do not always show on the pitch, and Uruguay has suffered from a conspicuous lack of consistency.
The team did, however, attain their goal, and that provided them with an injection of confidence. Unlike most of their European World Cup rivals, moreover, they have already played competitive games in recent months against global giants like Brazil or Argentina – Uruguay lost those games, but at least they know where they stand.
And many Uruguayan footballers regularly play in top European competitions, so clashing against the best in the world is likely to give them an additional dose of motivation rather than stage fright.
As they get ready the World Cup, Uruguay will seek to build on an opportunity to return to a path of greatness, in the knowledge that playing in South Africa 2010 is in itself a prize.
Oscar Tabarez, 62, is a very experienced coach. He has managed teams at the club level in Colombia, Argentina, Italy and Spain, as well as his native Uruguay, and he had two stints in each of Uruguay’s Under- 20 and senior national teams.
Nicknamed “El Maestro,” the teacher, Tabarez makes a point of standing by his players through thick and thin. Since his current stint with Uruguay started in 2006, he has insisted on stability as the best path to recover the country’s lost football prestige.
Diego Forlan, 30, was born into football. The grandson of a former Uruguay coach and the son of a defender who played two World Cups with Uruguay, Forlan already scored a goal in the greatest event of the sport, against Senegal in Japan and South Korea 2002.
After a run in Argentine side Independiente and a hapless stay with Manchester United, he finally fulfilled his potential as a striker at Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, where he won two European Golden Shoe awards.
The soft-spoken Forlan has played for Uruguay since 2002, and he is a leader on and off the pitch, although critics have sometimes accused him of failing to play for the national team as well as he does at the club level.
Nicknames: Charruas; La Celeste Olimpica (The Olympic Sky Blue); La Celeste (The
FIFA affiliation: 1923
Highest FIFA ranking: 12 – May 1994
Lowest FIFA ranking: 56 – December 1998
Previous World Cup appearances: 10 (1930, 1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1986, 1990, 2002)
Best World Cup performance: Winners of 1930 and 1950 World Cups
Date qualified for finals: November 18, 2009