Uruguay have very good reasons to believe they can reach the latter stages of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Aside from the attacking threat posed by Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, La Celeste have also been formidable in defence and, aside from Portugal, are the only side yet to concede a goal at South Africa 2010.
That impressive statistic represents a marked improvement on their record in the qualifying competition, when Los Charrúas conceded 20 goals in the 18 games they needed to reach the finals.
So why the turnaround? “Your form’s always a bit more up and down in qualifying competitions,” left-back Jorge Fucile told FIFA. “You’re playing for your club and then you come into the national side with very little time to work together. We’ve never had so much time to work on little details as we’ve had here and you can really tell the difference.”
“We’ve done well and that’s down to all 11 players on the pitch, not just the defenders,” said Fucile’s colleague on the other side of the Celeste defence, Mauricio Victorino. “This is a team that sticks together. I know the defenders have done their job and that we’ve kept our focus and been watchful, but the forwards have also given us a sense of security because we know that they can get us a goal at any time.”
Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has also done his bit to keep Uruguay’s goal intact and offered an interesting take on their progress so far: “I’ve not had that much work to do to be honest and the main reason for that is the hard work my team-mates have put in. I also think the teams we played in the qualifiers were tougher than the sides we’ve faced here.”
The next hurdle
One thing the defensive trio are all agreed on is that Korea Republic will prove tough opposition when the two sides meet in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. “I think they’re a better side going forward than they are defending,” said Victorino. “They have some really quick forwards but they’re really technical too, with a couple of midfielders who look very good on the ball. We need to be on our guard against them and if we make a mistake now, then we’ll be on our way home.”
In Muslera’s opinion, Uruguay need to cut off the South Koreans’ supply lines. “When they create a chance it usually takes them only two or three touches and they showed against Argentina that they can create danger. We need to be careful.”
Following their impressive group-phase showing, the Uruguayans are now rated by many as favourites to beat the Taeguk Warriors. “We don’t really care what people think,” commented Fucile. “We showed we were the best team in our group but when you get to the Round of 16 everyone’s at more or less the same level and it becomes hard to pick out favourites. We need to pounce when we can because the first goal can be crucial.”
A further reason for Uruguay’s new-found status as a team to beat is the identity of their possible opponents in the quarter-finals. Should they overcome the South Koreans, they will find Ghana or USA waiting for them rather than traditional big guns such as England or Germany. A source of added pressure perhaps?
“It depends,” replied Muslera. “It’s good to avoid one of the bigger sides at this stage of the competition but you always have to be careful when you’re up against unfancied teams.”
That appraisal is one that Victorino agrees with: “Obviously if you had the choice, then you wouldn’t want to play Argentina, Germany or England. We’ve been a little lucky maybe, but if you don’t go out and do it on the pitch, then all the talk and conjecture becomes meaningless.”
All three recognise that this team has fostered a dream in Uruguay - a dream that they too hold. Fucile concludes with a challenge to 'seize the moment': “This is a unique experience, something we all dreamed about since we were kids. We have to seize the moment our moment and grasp it firmly, because we don’t know if we will ever have a chance like this again. There is something special in this group and we can go far”.