Uruguay’s sterling efforts at South Africa 2010 made it even harder to fathom why they had qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ only once in the previous 20 years. Present at Italy 1990, La Celeste missed out on USA 1994 and France 1998, rejoined the global elite at Korea/Japan 2002 and were then denied a berth in Germany four years later by play-off opponents Australia. Finishing fifth again in the CONMEBOL qualifying group for South Africa 2010, they went down the play-off route once more, this time getting the better of Costa Rica to book their place.
FIFA World Cup finals history
Prior to the 1970s, when they began a lengthy period in the doldrums, Uruguay were widely regarded as one of the giants of world football. That status was founded on their two FIFA World Cup wins, the first of which came at home in 1930, and the second in Brazil 20 years later. That second triumph was secured by a shock 2-1 defeat of the hosts, a game since dubbed the Maracanazo after the name of the stadium where the Uruguayans stunned an entire nation. Their run to the semi-finals at Mexico 1970 was their last contribution of any real note at the finals until Diego Forlan and his cohorts advanced to the last four in South Africa last year, on what was Uruguay’s 11th appearance in the biggest tournament of them all.
The current crop
That Forlan-inspired fourth place was a timely morale-booster for the two-time world champions and restored their heavyweight reputation. They are now one of the hot favourites to win a place at Brazil 2014, especially with the host nation absent from the qualifying competition. And their impressive triumph at the Copa America in 2011, a record 15th title, also augurs well as Uruguay get set to try and live up to heavy expectations in FIFA World Cup qualifying.
The key players
There can be no argument as to who is the leader of the Charrúa pack. Forlan made off with the adidas Golden Ball in South Africa following some compelling displays. With Luis Suarez for company up front, and Edinson Cavani, the second-highest scorer in Serie A last season, also offering support, Forlan can be expected to worry yet more defences over the course of the campaign. Bristling with intent up the field, Uruguay are also unflinching at the back, where skipper Diego Lugano sets the standard for others to follow.
Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Uruguay 1930, Brazil 1950 (Winners), Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Paris 1924, Amsterdam 1928 (Winners), FIFA U-20 World Cup Malaysia 1997 (Runners-up), FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2006 (Runners-up), FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 (Runners-up)
Former stars: Roque Maspoli, Alcides Ghiggia, Enzo Francescoli