The rivalry between Uruguay and Brazil is one of the biggest in world football and one of the most unique. Despite the difference in size and population between the two countries, this is no David versus Goliath. Whenever they face off they do so on equal terms, and in the most important of their many meetings, the 1950 Maracanazo, it was Los Charrúas who left the field victorious.
That match, which brought Uruguay their second FIFA World Cup™, has become a landmark of footballing history and an inspiration to many Uruguayan players, who over the years have lost their fear of the mighty Brazilians.
The South American arch-rivals are all set to face each other again in circumstances not too dissimilar to the ones that brought them together 63 years ago: a high-profile match in a major tournament on Brazilian soil. On that occasion a Uruguay side captained by Obdulio Varela tasted glory. On Wednesday it will be Diego Lugano who leads out La Celeste for a match that could prove to be yet another momentous occasion.
Looking ahead to the game, the Uruguay skipper gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: What are your thoughts about Wednesday’s game in Belo Horizonte?
Diego Lugano: We can feel it coming and it’s going to be a big occasion, against Brazil in their backyard, in a tournament featuring the best teams in the world. It’s a tremendous privilege to be leading Uruguay again in a big knockout match. We are very happy and we need to approach this semi-final fully aware of what the history of the fixture means and of the fact that we’re up against a team in great form. Brazil are Brazil, but then again, Uruguay are also Uruguay.
La Celeste have made a habit of causing Brazil problems.
I think it goes further than that. Obviously Brazil and Argentina are the big teams in South America. They’ve got the players and the infrastructure, but if you look at it in terms of titles, you’ll see that Uruguay have won the Copa America more times than either of them and have got more Olympic titles than the Brazilians. That’s in spite of the fact we’re a smaller country that has to win four times more than they do to make the same kind of impact.
Uruguay have a good record against them in big games. What do you put that down to?
Uruguay feel comfortable about themselves on occasions like that, in really big games, because they’ve won so much over the years. We’re looking on this game as a big opportunity against a Brazil side that has obviously got everything in its favour. This is not the first time that’s been the situation, though, and we’ve beaten them before. There’s no reason why we can’t do it again.
You’re referring to the Maracanazo, aren’t you? Do you feel, like Obdulio Varela did on that occasion, that you have the responsibility of leading the way on Wednesday?
There’s no way I can compare myself to Varela. Times were different then. The circumstances, laws and players were all different and teams played differently too. What is the same are the two jerseys and the fact the game’s in Brazil. You also have to remember that the Maracanazo was not a one-off. We’ve also done it in the Copa America, and neither they nor Argentina have ever won it in Uruguay. They’re statistics that go way beyond the 1950 game and they fuel our belief. This generation of players has made history and we want to continue in that vein.
Despite it all, they’re saying in Brazil that Uruguay have only won one of the last ten meetings between the teams and haven’t won there since 1992.
That’s great. It’s better that they feel like the favourites, that they believe they’re the favourites. It’s a great chance to reprise our past victories over them and the successes this team has had.
Do you think the rivalry is the reason why the Brazilian fans have been supporting Uruguay’s opponents throughout the tournament?
You’d expect us to be treated like the away team when we’re up against other sides. There’s nothing unusual about it. If Brazil and Nigeria played in Uruguay, the fans would probably cheer for the Africans, for example. It’s a pretty big rivalry after all.
You’ve even been insulted, despite the fact you had a very successful stay with Sao Paulo, winning everything there was to win in Brazil.
Well, it’s always nice to get some recognition, even if they just do it to wind you up. It is recognition after all. The fact people know who I am shows I made a mark here.
One last question. How do you picture Wednesday’s game at the Mineirao going?
It’s going to be very, very intense. Both teams will be putting it all on the line and they’ve both got matchwinners in midfield and attack. It’s going to be a really great game and very evenly balanced. We’re preparing for it and we’re dreaming of beating them again. It would be great for Uruguayan football to reach a Confederations Cup final. We’ve achieved so much but we’re not settling for what we’ve got. We want more.