La Celeste have won two FIFA World Cups in their illustrious history, prevailing in the inaugural edition in 1930 before lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy for a second time in 1950. Since that victory, the closest Uruguay have come is 4th place in both 1970 and 2010. Despite their relative lack of recent success in the competition, this summer in Russia may be their chance to make a serious statement on the world stage and make a deep run in tournament.
Difference-Makers Up Front
One reason Uruguay ought to be taken seriously is the presence of their world-class duo up-front. No other country can boast of having two strikers that are of the calibre of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani. Suárez is currently the team’s record goalscorer with an impressive 50 goals in 97 appearances, and Cavani isn’t far behind with 42 goals in 100 appearances. They’ve both been prolific in front of goal in their respective domestic leagues this season with 46 goals between them. If they can continue this form into the summer there will be few defences that will be able to neutralise this potent attacking force.
La Celeste’s enviable attacking capability was on full display throughout their route to Russia. Uruguay finished the South American section of World Cup qualifying in second place with 31 points, a tally bettered only by Brazil who finished with 41 points. Despite a late-campaign blip that involved three consecutive defeats, the Sky Blue went on to qualify comfortably, having earned key points against the likes of Columbia, Chile, and Brazil in the early stages. Uruguay’s place in the marquee competition was confirmed following a 4-2 victory over Bolivia in which Suarez bagged two. The standout moments from their qualifying campaign were a 3-0 win against Columbia who had knocked them out of the 2014 World Cup and a 3-0 victory over Chile, the reigning Copa América champions. The overall top goalscorer scorer throughout qualifying was Edinson Cavani with 10 goals, beating players like Lionel Messi (7) and Neymar (6).
Experience and Familiarity in Defence
But notwithstanding the importance of Suarez and Cavani, Uruguay’s qualification campaign was built on more than just the explosive attacking ability of their star duo. This season in Europe’s top 5 leagues, no team has conceded fewer goals than Athlético Madrid (15), and two integral parts of that defence are their Uruguayan centre-backs, Diego Godín and José Giménez.
Godín is one of Uruguay’s most experienced players having won 116 caps since his debut in 2005. By contrast, José Giménez made his competitive debut in the 2014 World Cup where he became the youngest Uruguayan to do so. Considering most international teammates rarely play alongside each other, the relationship they have built up by training and playing together at club level should provide the basis for a strong partnership.
Perfect Timing for Uruguay?
Uruguay has been drawn into Group A alongside Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. As they are the hosts, Russia’s last competitive fixtures since the 2016 European Championships were in last years Confederations Cup where their sole win came against New Zealand. Furthermore, this is also combined with the added pressure that comes from being the host nation in a tournament of this significance. These factors may be to the detriment of the team’s focus, and could reduce their chances of making it out of their group. Uruguay’s greatest threat is Egypt and most importantly their talisman, Mohammed Salah, whose scintillating form would be a worry for even the steeliest of defences. That said, the difference in the quality of his teammates at international level compared to club level is stark and he is unlikely to receive the type of service he is used to at Liverpool. Provided they can keep Salah quiet and beat Egypt, they shouldn’t have a problem topping their group.
Uruguay’s coach, Óscar Tabárez, will be 71 when the tournament comes around in the summer and there is a sense that a decent run would be a fitting send-off for the man who holds the record for the most international games managed for one team. Furthermore, with some of their key players like Godín, Suárez and Cavani all being in their early thirties there is a strong possibility that this will be their last world cup in the prime of their careers, this may provide the motivation they need to make this a tournament to remember. The only international trophy they’ve won together was the 2011 Copa América so a World Cup winners medal would certainly be a welcome addition to their relatively sparse international trophy cabinet.
Uruguay’s first match is against Egypt on the 15th of June where we’ll finally see if they can recapture the spirit of their World Cup winning sides; proving they are serious contenders for getting their hands on the most famous trophy in world football.