Nickname: The Sky Blue
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Captain: Diego Godin
FIFA World Ranking: 17
Previous Appearances at WC Finals: 13
Best Performance at WC Finals: Champions (1930 & 1950)
Road to Russia
The battle to progress to the FIFA World Cup finals in South America is never easy. Uruguay headed into the CONMEBOL 2018 World Cup qualifiers as the fifth highest ranked team behind Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Chile respectively.
Uruguay took the early ascendency with wins against Bolivia and Colombia. Meanwhile, Argentina and Brazil had lost their opening fixtures against Ecuador and Chile respectively, which gave them the early advantage against the South American giants.
As soon as the group seemed to be heading in The Sky Blue’s favour, Ecuador claimed their third straight win to abruptly end Uruguay’s winning streak. This had detrimental repercussions; Uruguay plummeted into third, Chile climbed into second and Ecuador concluded Match Day 3 as group leaders.
Complacency was avoided in the following fixtures when Uruguay defeated Chile and Peru and also came from two goals behind to draw in Brazil. Uruguay had restored their place at the summit of the group, leading Ecuador on goal difference and third place Argentina by two points.
Argentina had recovered from their disastrous start to qualification and consolidated their renaissance with a narrow 1-0 win against Uruguay. The Albiceleste displaced Uruguay as group leaders but they once again illustrated a high level of resilience to recover from defeat.
Colombia held them to a draw and a fading Ecuador was beaten in Montevideo to lift Uruguay back into contention. Frontrunners Brazil had taken a narrow lead at the top of the group but Uruguay’s strong start had assembled them a healthy point’s total.
Their strong opening to qualification proved even more important after they slumped to three consecutive defeats against Chile, Brazil and Peru. They followed those World Cup qualifying defeats with further losses against Republic of Ireland and Italy in June 2017. This was the first time they’d lost five successive matches since 1993 and the first time they’d lost three consecutive World Cup qualifiers since 2004.
Despite those defeats, Uruguay only slipped to third place, but it did open a 10-point lead for Brazil at the top of the group. Uruguay won one and drew two of their next three games to leave the final match day finely balanced.
Six teams were still in contention for qualification, bar group leaders Brazil, who’d secured qualification prior to any other nation via the qualification system. Uruguay had a superior goal difference, which placed them in a favourable position, but they left no stone unturned by ruthlessly defeating Bolivia.
Paris Saint-German striker Edinson Cavani finished as the CONMEBOL top goal scorer with ten goals. They also bettered their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification, in which they finished fifth place and only progressed by beating Jordan over two legs in the inter-confederation play-off.
Style of Play
Oscar Tabarez has revolutionised Uruguayan football since arriving for his second spell as manager in 2006. They have produced a promising generation of players under his watch after changing the infrastructure of the game in order to produce world renowned talent.
Uruguay set-up in an organized, compact and defensive manner, which makes them extremely hard to beat. They rely on the experienced players in the squad, such as Maxi Pereira (33), Diego Godin (32) and Cristian Rodriguez (32) to lead the team and pass over their wealth of experience on the pitch.
During qualification, Uruguay alternated between a 4-4-2 and 4-3-1-2 formation. Cristian Rodriguez switches from defence to attack by becoming part of the forward line and joining Suarez and Cavani or slotting into a three-man midfield to provide extra defensive cover.
Organization is paramount to success for Uruguay and they zonally mark areas of the pitch that are potentially most dangerous. This starves the opposition of space and forces them to resort to less effective passes. By shepherding the opposition into their defensive zone, Uruguay play a high pressing system to force them into an error.
The attack is mainly based around FC Barcelona forward Luis Suarez and Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani. The full-backs also join the attack to provide attacking width but this can sometimes be predictable if they’re playing a compact system due to the lack of attacking players supporting them.
They aim to deliver the ball into the paths of their two target men either by threading passes from central positions or delivering the ball from the flanks. In brief, Uruguay plays with a rigid defence, a compact midfield and aim to break on the counter-attack to feed Suarez or Cavani.
What You Need to Know About the Manager:
Oscar Tabarez’s nomadic managerial career has spanned over 37 years with twelve different clubs in Colombia, Italy, Spain and Argentina. He managed Italian giants AC Milan for a brief spell in 1996 and this is also his second spell as manager of the Uruguayan National Team.
Uruguay finished runners-up in the 1989 Copa America and in the Round of 16 at the 1990 FIFA World Cup during his first spell between 1988 and 1990. Their win against South Korea in the group stage back in 1990 was their first since 1970 and their last until 2010 during Tabarez’s second spell at the helm.
The re-emergence of the Uruguayan National Team began when Tabarez was appointed manager for the second time in 2006. He has altered the landscape of Uruguayan football by educating young players to play the same system as the first team and contributing to the production of high quality academy products.
They met expectations in South Africa by reaching the semi-finals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and consolidated that success by being crowned Copa America champions in 2011. He’s currently managed more games for just one nation than any other manager and was also voted South American Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2011.
Forward: Luis Suarez – FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona forward Luis Suarez will be crucial in the final third for Uruguay at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The 31-year-old became Uruguay’s all-time top goal scorer at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup when he surpassed Diego Forlan’s record of 35 goals.
He made his international debut in 2007 and has been their most important player since his 2010 FIFA World Cup heroics. Suarez will do whatever it takes for victory, which was best exemplified when he punched the ball off the goal line in their famous penalty shoot-out victory against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals.
Suarez has always been a controversial figure and made the wrong type of headlines for his third biting incident. This earned him a four-month ban from football entirely and a further nine-match ban for the national team.
Despite this, the positives outweigh the negatives in the case of Luis Suarez and Uruguayans will be hoping he can provide magic once again in Russia. He’s scored 31 goals in 51 appearances in all competitions for Barcelona this season, which takes his total to 152 goals in 198 appearances for the Blaugrana.
Forward: Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain
Some would argue that Edinson Cavani is overshadowed by Luis Suarez in the national team. However, Cavani finished the COMNEBOL World Cup qualifiers as the top goal scorer with ten goals.
Uruguay’s attack is largely set-up around Cavani and Suarez, which is a mouth-watering prospect considering their prolific goal scoring records. Suarez was rarely present during qualification, which meant Cavani was able to shine and prove his worth to the Uruguayan supporters.
He duly delivered and will be equally as key to Uruguay as the fantastic but erratic Luis Suarez. At Paris Saint-Germain, Cavani won his fourth successive French Ligue 1 title and scored an astounding 40 goals in 47 appearances.
Defender: Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid