Prior to the World Cup, world soccer supremacy was disputed at the Olympics and Uruguay won the football gold medals in 1924 (France) and 1928 (Netherlands) Olympics. The Charruas, who are to participate in their 15th World Cup, followed their back-to-back Olympic wins with a victory at the inaugural 1930 World Cup in Montevideo, beating Argentina 4-2. Twenty years later their second championship, was won famously in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro where they beat hosts Brazil 2-1. Since 1950, Uruguay have come in fourth place three times: in 1954 in Switzerland, in 1970 in Mexico, and in 2010 in South Africa. They made the quarterfinals in 1966 in England, and in 2018 in Russia. In short, Uruguay have been among the planet’s soccer elite for as long as futbol has been a global sport.
The Uruguayans have traditionally had very strong teams in cycles, but 2022 seems to be a confluence of the concluding cycle of a golden generation—Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, Diego Godin, Fernando Muslera, and Martin Caceres—and a nascent generation beginning to establish themselves in the likes of Jose Gimenez, Federico Valverde, Maxi Gomez, Sergio Rochet, and 23-year-old star Darwin Nunez.
Placed in Group H with Portugal, South Korea, and Ghana, the Uruguayans fancy their chances of making it through the group stage, most likely behind Portugal. Though progression is likely, they would then reach a potential Round of 16 match against overall tourney favorites Brazil, and that should seal their fate in 2022. Uruguay wears their classic home kit (basically unchanged for 80 years) a “celestial blue” shirt over black shorts and black socks with a blue stripe, their away kit is all white–shorts, shirt, and socks–with blue borders, and the team crest in the middle of the shirt.
Uruguay was first inhabited about 13,000 years ago. Today, it is a unitary presidential republic. It achieved its independence in 1828 via the Treaty of Montevideo and established its constitution in 1830. Uruguay’s 69,900 square miles are composed mostly of rolling plains and low hill ranges with fertile lowlands and over 400 miles of coastline. It has uniformly mild weather (winter lows in the upper 40sF and summer highs in the 70sF) but seasonal variations are common given its mostly flat land and its proximity to the Argentine Pampas and the ocean, making a single day’s weather a varying thing regardless of the season. Uruguay has a population of 3,518,552 of which two million live in the metropolitan area of its capital and largest city, Montevideo. The country’s Human Development Index score is 0.817 (very high), and its GDP is $94.78B. Uruguayans speak Spanish, are 87.7% White, 54% Christian, and share a gaucho, tango, and literary culture with Argentina. Uruguayan soccer players are inspired by and subject to La Garra Charrua.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given current transfers): Goalkeepers—Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Sebastian Sosa (Independiente), Sergio Rochet (Nacional). Defenders—Diego Godin (captain, Velez Sarsfield), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Martin Caceres (LA Galaxy), Guillermo Varela (Flamengo), Ronald Araujo (Barcelona), Damian Suarez (Getafe), Mathias Olivera (Napoli), Matias Vina (Roma). Midfielders—Lucas Torreira (Galatasaray), Matias Vecino (Lazio), Manuel Ugarte (Sporting) Nicolas de la Cruz (River Plate), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Flamengo), Fernando Gorriaran (Santos Laguna), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Mauro Arambarri (Getafe). Forwards—Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Valencia), Edinson Cavani (Valencia), Luis Suarez (Nacional), Facundo Pellistri (Manchester United), Diego Rossi (Fenerbahce), Darwin Nunez (Liverpool), Agustin Canobbio (Atletico Paranaense).
Path to Qatar
Uruguay qualified directly for the 2022 World Cup as their team came in third after Brazil and Argentina in South America’s 18-game qualifiers. The Charruas path was not smooth but when they were on, they were a major reason why Chile and Colombia did not qualify.
The two most important strategic issues facing Uruguay are: will the decision-making of new (2021) coach Diego Alonso (who took over from Oscar Tabarez the national coach for the previous 15 years), be up to snuff, and will his chosen mix of aging and new stars gel in time to play their needed roles come November? Will a Suarez, Cavani, Estuani, Nunez offensive work? Will Godin and Jimenez remain the pillars of the defense? Will it be Muslera taking over again or Rochet who saw the team into the cup? They have used a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 and have been able to adjust mid-game on the fly—but should they? The bottom line is they now have options galore both in terms of personnel and tactics and the coach has carte blanche.
Valverde, Nunez, Jimenez, Rochet, and a slew of others are ready for prime time. Suarez, Cavani, Godin, Caseres, et.al. have a good couple of games or consistent substitute spells a piece left in them. The point is the team has many options to choose from and if played well, rested well, and mixed well, this team could surprise folks—as Uruguayans seem to always do.
Group and Tourney Prospects
Group H has one big boy—Portugal. Only Uruguay beat them 2-0 in World Cup 2018, remember? South Korea is tough and disciplined but basically a one-man show with a decent supporting cast. Ghana are no pushovers but may be well over their heads in this company. The Uruguayans should progress, but Portugal is likely to be itching for revenge and too tough to topple from their first-place perch. So, the Charruas will probably earn a second-place finish and be awarded a tough opponent in the Round of 16. If they draw a top contender Uruguay will bow out before the quarterfinals, but if it is a competitive match, don’t count them out.
Darwin Nunez photo. Source: Shutterstock Stock Photo ID: 2135173515– Maciej Rogowski Photo