It was four years ago, this week, that the mercurial menace, Luis Suarez, literally saved Uruguay from elimination in the World Cup quarter-finals against Ghana. He was sent off, Asamoah Gyan’s penalty thumped against the bar and the rest is history.
A fourth-place position in South Africa 2010 was their best finish in 40 years. Worth remembering, they’re two-time winners, historically, the inaugural winners of the competition.
Now into 2018, they look in their best shape to even consider adding a third star to their sky-blue shirt. The core of their first team are in their peak if not heading towards it and playing consistently at the highest level, making them a good bet as dark-horses in Russia.
Oscar Tabarez has been at the helm since 2006. ‘El Maestro’ has been at the centre of the rejuvenation within Uruguayan football, managing the emergence of talismanic duo Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez as well as the making of one the world’s mightiest centre halves, Diego Godin.
They were granted a favourable draw to progress to the knock-out stages for the third successive World Cup and had form, one defeat in nine, with six clean sheets in that run. With that in mind, they stuttered out of the blocks and had the fortune that Egypt were without their focal point, Mohammed Salah. Many were doubting their chances just two games in.
In terms of their attacking play it was unconvincing, yet in their own penalty box, there was no question they were taking charge. Godin the dominant leader alongside his protégé Jose Maria Giminez, it was reassuring for Fernando Muslera in goal who perhaps isn’t given enough credit because of the quality defending him. Giminez’s powerful header stole the win late in round one, Suarez’s goal beat Saudi Arabia on his 100th cap and they were through with relative ease, yet to concede.
If ‘La Celeste’ stood a chance of going far in Russia, they needed to spark the best from their dynamic forward pair, cue Tabarez’s tweek. A switch to a back-three to face the hosts, he introduced Arsenal bound tough tackling, Lucas Torreira and advanced the talented Rodrigo Bentancur. Russia may have rested a few but Uruguay looked much improved, a 3-0 win proof of that, Cavani off the mark.
Move to last Saturday and the opposition of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, let’s face it, it is really Ronaldo and the rest at this point. It was the South Americans that emerged from Fischt Stadium victorious, an inspiring performance from their star strikers. The change of tactic had ignited them and now Uruguay look threatening, quicker in interchange to attack and most importantly, scoring goals.
The opener was mesmerising. Cavani flighted a brilliant switch to Suarez on the left wing, as he was driving at Cedric, a quick lift of the head made him aware of his partner’s run. He checked onto his right and the perfect cross met Cavani’s head, the finish was emphatic. This was the epitome of what they bring, as well as the winner, a beautiful curling finish from the PSG hitman.
France is an enormous test, particularly after their flashes of flawless attacking play in beating Argentina. Torreira was tenacious with Ronaldo, can he handle Paul Pogba? Godin and Giminez have conceded once in Russia, but now club-mate Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are in front of them. Whilst Suarez and Cavani need to evade Ngolo Kante’s grasp and outwit Raphael Varane.
This World Cup has been phenomenal so far, if Uruguay spring the latest surprise, that third star will be shining that bit brighter in their hopes of World Cup triumph.