Eight years on from their last appearance at a FIFA U-20 World Cup, Uruguay are back among the elite of youth football. The man responsible for guiding the Celeste to Canada is Gustavo Ferrin, the same coach who led the country's U-17 side at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005. And while the likes of Fabian Carini, Ernesto Chevanton and Diego Forlan, all stars of the side that took fourth place at Nigeria 1999, have come and gone, Uruguayan fans have reason to be optimistic about a side that combines traditional battling spirit with good attacking football.
Uruguay's qualification for Canada 2007, the team's ninth appearance at a world championship in this category, has generated much expectation in this football-mad corner of South America. Given the history of the game there, Ferrin's young charges would dearly love to go one better than the class of 1997, who lost that year's final to neighbours Argentina, and secure the country's first ever world title in this category in Canada.
Uruguay ensured their presence in Canada thanks to a third-placed finish at January's South American Championship in Paraguay. The Celeste's campaign started brightly with the team producing intelligent and effective football in the group phase, when Ferrin's side finished second in their section behind Colombia, but ahead of Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela.
After a positive start to the hexagonal final stage that saw them post consecutive wins over Paraguay (3-1) and Colombia (2-0), Uruguay briefly looked like title contenders. However, their illusions were swiftly shattered after a defeat to Brazil (1-3) and a draw with Chile put them out of the running for the continental championship. Nevertheless, seven points from four games was sufficient to earn them a berth in Canada and set up what was effectively a play-off with Argentina for second spot and the last of the continent's berths for the Olympic Football Tournament at Beijing 2008. Unfortunately for the Charrúas, it was not to be, with their last-gasp defeat at the hands of the Albiceleste (0-1) preventing a return to the Olympic stage after an 80-year absence. On the credit side, the team did pick up the tournament Fair Play award and boasted in Edinson Cavani the top-scorer with six goals.
At 47 Gustavo Ferrin has already accumulated vast experience in youth football. After six years working with the youth teams at Montevideo side Defensor, the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) asked him to join the coaching staff of the national U-17 and U-20 teams. In 2001 and 2002, he worked as assistant coach before later taking charge of the sides on a temporary basis and coaching the senior team at the 2003 Carlsberg Cup in Hong Kong.
Then in late 2004, while still working for the AUF, he was given permission to temporarily return to Defensor to help his former side stave off relegation, which he duly did. In 2005 Ferrin failed in his bid to qualify Uruguay for that year's FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands, but he did manage to guide the U-17s to the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru just a few months later. Now with several of his squad from that championship moving up a category, this passionate and highly qualified coach will be hoping to lead his country to a historic triumph in Canada.
With his tall frame and flowing locks, Edinson Cavani looks every bit the archetypal South American striker. Possessed of fine technique, pace and coolness under pressure, the classy No.9 has been putting his vast repertoire of skills to good use at Uruguay's recently crowned league champions Danubio.
Born in Salto in northern Uruguay, Cavani cemented a first-team place with his club last year after scoring 12 goals, including one in the Final against Penarol, en route to the 2006 Apertura Championship. It was more than enough to convince Ferrin to hand him the captaincy of the team, and the striker duly repaid his coach's trust by firing in six goals to take the tournament's top-scorer award and help his side to third place. His performance also caught the attention of visiting clubs, and he subsequently agreed terms for a move to Italian Serie A side Palermo.
|13||Juan Manuel DIAZ|
|10||Gerardo VONDER PUTTEN|