Uruguay have conjured up some memorable moments in the World Cup, but nothing as shocking as extraordinary as what happened in Natal, Brazil, four years ago. Luis Suarez’s bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini was a low point in the country’s glittering World Cup history but without Italy in this year's competition there’s no chance of a glorious rematch.
Their attacking powers have made them a strong team over the years but their form since qualifying for the tournament will be slightly concerning. A 0-0 draw against Poland and a 2-1 defeat against Austria followed by victories over Czech Republic and Wales means their head coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez, better known as el maestro, can get more from his side.
Tabarez is managing Uruguay in a World Cup for a fourth time after guiding them to a round-of-16 defeat against South Korea in Italia 90 and then taking over once again in 2006 and guiding the Celeste to South Africa and Brazil.
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Luis Suarez: Another three goals for Luis Suarez will see him equal Oscar Miguez’s record eight goals for Uruguay, although Suarez will be appearing in one more World Cup than the 1950 winner. Suarez has scored just once for Uruguay since they sealed qualifications, however the forward will be keen to make up for his banishment from the previous tournament, so expect big things.
Diego Godin: Those with a great appreciation for defending will have Diego Godin as the first name in their nominations for the Ballon d’Or. At 32, he shows remarkable enthusiasm for defending and celebrates every block, tackle and interception as if he has scored. When playing Arsenal in the Europa League semi-final and in the final against Marseilles, Godin led from the back and ensured his hands were on the trophy at full time by dragging his teammates to the finish. His tenacity and leadership will be very important for Uruguay who will rely on him to conduct the defending as they absorb pressure then hit teams on the counter attack.
Edinson Cavani: The biggest criticism of Edinson Cavani is that he is a very good goal scorer in domestic leagues but struggles on larger stages in bigger and more important games. His goals were important for Uruguay in qualifying for the tournament, but it will be interesting to see if he can build on his partnership with Suarez and deliver at the World Cup.
One to watch
Federico Valverde: Aged 19, Federico Valverde is the youngest player in Uruguay’s squad, but stands out as one of the most exciting. After impressing at Uruguayan side Penarol and representing Uruguay from the age of 15, Valverde was snapped up by Real Madrid who sent him on loan to Deportivo.
Hailed as the next Toni Kroos, Valverde has made a habit of dropping deep and finding teammates in more forward positions with a long and precise pass, in a similar way to Xabi Alonso did. He is also very good on the ball and his close control and confidence allows him to ghost through challenges to open up the pitch. Regardless of how well he does this summer, or whether he stays at Real Madrid, Valverde certainly has the raw talent to pursue a successful career.
How did they get here?
In a dramatic final round of fixtures in the final games of the South America qualifying section, Uruguay needed to beat Bolivia to avoid the uncertainty of the play-offs. Three consecutive defeats to Chile, Brazil and Peru meant that Uruguay had to quickly turn around their form or face not qualifying at all. The side regrouped, and put a run of results together which ended with a 4-2 win over Bolivia and a second place finish in the table, behind Brazil.
How will they do?
The firepower of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani combined with the defensive experience of Diego Godin means that Uruguay have all the necessary tools to have a successful tournament. Anything less than the quarter finals will be a disappointment, anything further than that is definitely achievable, providing key players keep their teeth to themselves.
Odds on winning the tournament: 25/1
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera, Martin Silva, Martin Campana
Defenders: Diego Godin, Sebastian Coates, Jose Maria Gimenez, Maximiliano Pereira, Gaston Silva, Martin Caceres, Guillermo Varela
Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez, Lucas Torreira, Matias Vecino, Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Bentancur, Carlos Sanchez, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Diego Laxalt, Cristian Rodriguez, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Nicolas Lodeiro, Gaston Ramirez
Forwards: Cristhian Stuani, Maximiliano Gomez, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez
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