A repeat of the Uruguayans’ stuttering form in qualifying will do them no favours in South Africa
Oscar Tabarez’s side need to find a consistency that escaped them in the qualifiers if they are to come out of a tough Group A and enjoy their best World Cup since reaching the semi-finals in 1970.
The qualifiers were stop-start, as they have been in previous cycles in the decade, with Uruguay having to contest a play-off for the third time in a row.
They played well against top team Brazil home and away, but lost both times – with the 4-0 defeat in Montevideo hingeing on the goalkeeping, in which Brazil’s Julio Cesar was brilliant, while Sebastian Viera handed the visitors a soft opening goal after which Uruguay were then laid open to the lethal counter-attacks as they sought to get back into the match. For a country that produced the great Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, the position of goalkeeper is a weak area for Tabarez.
But they were less impressive when they went to Lima to play bottom team Peru in September and lost 1-0. Tabarez’s team redeemed themselves with a home win over Colombia but then had to pull a rabbit out of the hat in Ecuador to stay in the hunt.
The coach – drawing on his experience of taking Uruguay to Italia 1990 – hopes that, having got over the tough hurdle of the qualifiers, the players have understood that they can play good football to overcome pressure periods in matches rather than resort to the old Uruguayan habit of appealing to their Charrua Indian fighting spirit.
Seize the moment
Tabarez sees the group stage as not too different from the qualifiers but believes the players are aware of the important distinction and will seize the moment.
Goalkeeping apart, midfield is their critical area. Nicolas Lodeiro emerged as a classy option as a creator when he inspired Nacional to the title last season but he has not seen much action with Ajax since moving to Holland and his lack of match practice worries Tabarez.
However, because Lodeiro is part of the process under Tabarez in the cycle of four years, having been a key player in Diego Aguirre’s Under-20 team, he will be given every chance in the preparation period up to the deadline to name the 23-man squad.
The view from Uruguay
“There are aspects that need improving, above all in ball possession and control. There were good signs in the warm-up game against Switzerland when, overall, Uruguay got hold of the ball and played it well. There are players with a good touch but there has to be the intention and commitment to that kind of football. The conditions are there to do so and I believe we’ll be able to if we take the World Cup as a chance to enjoy it now that the stress of the qualifiers is over.”
Mario Bardanca, TV Ciudad
“They are a very physical team, very aggressive in their pressure on the ball, in their marking, in the way they set out to play their matches. They have a virtue which is that they have a footballing memory, they know what they want. You know they are limited because they don’t have great players or stars who make a difference, they don’t have a Messi or Kaka, who take a marvellous invention out of the hat. They have players like Forlan who score goals.”
Ricardo Pineyrua, Radio El Espectador 810