Only the distinctive sky-blue of their shirts reminded viewers that this was Uruguay out on the field, with Oscar Tabarez’s charges a shadow of their normal selves in the first half against the United Arab Emirates at Old Trafford. Indeed, it was the latter who took the game to their more fancied opponents in the opening stages of the teams’ first outing in Group A at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
“The Emiratis took us by surprise a bit, to tell you the truth,” said Celeste No14 Nicolas Lodeiro, a serious look on his face. “We knew they were a team that played good football and were tactically very disciplined, as well as using the ball very well. But even so they still caught us a bit cold.”
Forced to watch Los Charrúas’ first-half travails from the substitutes’ bench, Lodeiro and his colleagues were able to breathe a sigh of relief when Gaston Ramirez fired home a superb free-kick just minutes before the break to cancel out Ismaeil Matar’s opener.
“When I was in the dugout I just kept thinking how we were still in it, that we had good enough players to turn things around,” said the gifted midfielder. “Even though we started the game badly, we’ve worked in training on doing better than that and on overcoming difficult situations.”
Brought into the fray at the interval, Lodeiro quickly set about shaking things up in the Uruguay ranks. The team went back to a four-man midfield, began to take hold of possession and, though they did allow the Emiratis a few opportunities, La Celeste suddenly looked a much better proposition overall.
“We needed to be a bit better organised, we needed to start seeing more of the ball. That’s what we were lacking, particularly in the opening 20 minutes, and that’s how they managed to hurt us. We just weren’t keeping the ball well enough,” added Lodeiro, who was keen to play down his own part in the Uruguayan comeback, instead highlighting the efforts of the team as a whole.
Yet what cannot be overlooked is the fact that it was his crisp 55th-minute strike that won the game for the two-time competition winners. “I’m not sure how to best describe the goal,” said Lodeiro, with a broad grin. “It was a move by Luis [Suarez] but when he was about to get a shot off I arrived in a better position and struck it myself.”
Having managed to extricate themselves after being forced onto the back foot by a disciplined UAE side, Lodeiro and Co are now keen to use this match as a wake-up call. “We’ve got lots of areas to improve on and we know we didn’t play the way we wanted to, but even so we were fortunate enough to win,” said the player, who recently signed for Brazil’s Botafogo. “It’s always important to get a positive result as it helps us keep that bit calmer. The first game is done and dusted, now it’s time to focus on what’s ahead.”
And despite their initial struggles, the former Ajax player remained confident in Uruguay’s chances at London 2012. “This team’s very strong,” he concluded. “We’ve got a very close bond and we’re determined to really push on from here.”