The Men’s Olympic Football Tournament holds special significance for Uruguayan football. Before the advent of the FIFA World Cup™, the country won consecutive gold medals at the two tournaments it contested. The first of those triumphs came at Paris 1924 and was a landmark achievement not just for Los Charrúas but for South American football in general, which until then had not had the opportunity to take on Europe’s top sides at a major competition. Uruguay confirmed their pre-eminence by winning gold again at Amsterdam 1928, their last appearance at the Olympics to date.
Coached by Juan Verzeri, La Celeste had their ups and downs in the 2011 South American U-20 Championship in Peru, which served as the qualifying competition for London 2012. Finishing third in Group A with a mere four points, the Uruguayans roused themselves in the six-team final pool, remaining in the hunt for the continental title through to the final round of games. Though beaten 6-0 by Brazil in that last outing, they could take satisfaction from finishing runners-up with ten points, a haul amassed despite scoring a mere four goals in the final phase.
Uruguayan football is enjoying something of a golden era, one that began with the country’s fourth place at South Africa 2010, continued with their run to the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 and then yielded the Copa America title in Argentina last July. Given that recent record, the significance of the Olympics to Uruguay and the form of their players in the world’s top leagues, La Celeste would appear to be genuine medal prospects.
Nevertheless, national team coach Oscar Tabarez, who will be taking charge of the side in London, is anxious to dampen any euphoria: “It’s easy for people to come out and say we should be going to the Olympics to win. They’re risking nothing by saying that. We know very well what we should be aiming for and the factors we have in our favour to achieve that.”
Facts and figures
Pedro Petrone, Hector Scarone, Jose Nasazzi, Pedro Cea, Andres Mazzali, Santos Urdinaran (1924, 1928); Angel Romano (1924); Hector Castro and Antonio Campolo (1928).
Uruguay won four of their nine games in the group phase and final six-team section at the continental championship in Peru, drawing two and losing the other three. In doing so they scored eight goals and conceded 12. Their leading scorer was Adrian Luna with three goals, followed by Pablo Capellini and Diego Polenta with two apiece.
The numbers game
84 - The number of years that have passed since Uruguay last appeared in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, at Amsterdam 1928, when they won their second gold medal in their second successive appearance.