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Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Rise of Uruguay in World Football

Photo credit: Getty Images

If one had presumed that Uruguay would make it to the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, it would have been considered a long shot. They made it in by winning the half spot play-in game against Concacaf's Costa Rica, a wild card so to speak. But at the World Cup we saw the rise of Luis Suarez and the reaffirmation of Diego Forlan, Eguren, Cavani and Lugano. Only Spain could defeat them in the end--and they ended up winning the cup.

Was it an oddity? No. This past summer we saw the same team knock off host-nation Argentina and win the tournament in convincing fashion against Paraguay. Throw in the fact that they went undefeated in 2011, including an away win at Italy, and you know something special is brewing.

Uruguay has always been about passion and defense. I grew up knowing them as "rageros," a word meaning "foulers." Their style was dirty to the point of intimidation. The Uruguay of old that won two of the first four World Cups had been eroded away. Uruguay's position in South America was up for grabs and this allowed teams like Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador to advance to the ecumenical tournament throughout the past two decades. Uruguay sometimes made it in, but just by a hair.

The pushover, ragero days for Uruguay are over. After Suarez' crucial handball stop versus Ghana in 2010, everything seemed to change. Forlan's scintilating possession, Lugano's positioning on the pitch and Luis Suarez' nose for goals are only the tip of the iceberg. They dribble around defenses with precision, score sublime goals and win games in style. Luis Suarez' awareness is so impressive that defenders double or tripple up on him, enough so that players like Dirk Kuyt and Carrol, Cavani and Forlan, have room to create dangerous plays. His game transcends seamlessly from club to country and this is the same for other players like Forlan and Lugano. That's the real key to Uruguay. The players always play well, no matter when or for whom.

It's not inconceivable to asume that Uruguay will top Conmebol's qualifying campaign. Also not inconceivable that they could remain undefeated. And, at the end of the day, it's not inconceivable that La Celeste could win the World Cup, in Rio, all over again.

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