Uruguay featured prominently in the first two editions of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, going out in the semi-finals to the eventual winners (USSR in 1977 and Argentina in 1979) on both occasions. Their eminence waned in the latter half of the following decade, however, when they failed to qualify for either the 1985, 1987 or 1989 editions. The 90s proved altogether more successful for Uruguayan youth football, with the country gracing four of the five global events. Their best performance to date was at Malaysia 1997, when they narrowly lost the final to neighbours Argentina. After their surprise elimination at the hands of the USA at Canada 2007, their first finals appearance of the decade, La Celeste will go to Egypt 2009 with a winning mentality and a very attack-minded side. Should they strike the right balance there between attack and defence, they could well have a major say in the destination of the title.
Uruguay had a flawless first group-stage at the South American U-20 Championship, winning all four of their games. And while they surrendered their unbeaten record to Brazil in their opening match of the final six-team phase (3-2), they were soon back on track with 2-1 wins over both Colombia and Argentina, before securing qualification in the penultimate game with a 2-2 draw with Paraguay. They finished third in the final standings, with six wins, one draw and two defeats over the two rounds. Moreover, they ended the tournament as highest scorers with 21 goals, including five by joint top-scorer Abel Hernandez, showing great spirit to come from behind for five of their six victories.
Diego Aguirre took up the reins in 2008 with the difficult task of replacing Gustavo Ferrin, the man who put La Celeste back among the elite of world youth football. The 43-year-old native of Montevideo had a long and successful professional career, the high point of which was his last-gasp goal against America de Cali that won Penarol the 1987 Copa Libertadores. He began his coaching career with university sides in 2000 shortly after his retirement and would go on to enjoy stints in charge of top-flight clubs in Uruguay (Plaza Colonia, Penarol and Wanderers), Ecuador (Aucas) and Peru (Alianza Lima) before switching to international football.
In a side with such a plethora of attacking options, singling out one player is quite difficult. The five goals Abel Hernandez netted in qualifying make him an obvious candidate, but it would be unfair not to mention fellow front-men Jonathan Urretaviscaya and Santiago Garcia, along with midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro and Tabare Viudez. Another to keep a close eye on in the Land of the Pharaohs is wing-back Adrian Gunino.
What they said...
"What Uruguay achieved [at the Sudamericano] was no accident, but rather the result of the planning and hard work we've been doing with all the [youth] teams. The squad fought and played well, achieving one of the two objectives we'd set ourselves in Venezuela. We didn't manage to win the title, but that shouldn't take away from our World Cup qualification. We're on the right road and we need to continue down it." Uruguay coach Diego Aguirre