Having played seven seasons in Mexico, at seven different clubs, who better than Uruguay forward Sebastian Abreu to give his views on Las Charrúas’ final Group A game against El Tri at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?
“They’re a very competitive team, with a few players at their second World Cup and who’ve been gathering experience at big European clubs,” El Loco told FIFA ahead of tomorrow's decisive meeting in Rustenburg.
“Even their coach was in Europe until recently and he’s been able to instil the dynamic you need for this type of tournament into his players. Besides, I like Mexico’s team even more after what I’ve seen at this tournament. But we’re capable of competing with them.”
The Uruguay No13 also feels the two sides share some key characteristics. “Just like us, they’ve managed to make some important tactical adjustments and they can defend with a three or four-man backline without it affecting their playing system. It’ll be an interesting game.”
The only previous meeting between the sides at a FIFA World Cup ended in a goalless draw at England 1966, though it is Los Aztecas who have the edge overall with seven wins and three defeats from 17 games. The last encounter came in the play-off for third place at the Copa America 2007; a match Mexico won 3-1 with Abreu scoring La Celeste’s reply.
“That game has no bearing," said the said the Botafogo player, scorer of 26 goals in 57 internationals. "Their side’s really changed since then and so has ours. We’re in a completely different situation now and, once the whistle blows, the statistics will go out of the window."
Nor does the well-travelled goal-getter feel that his experience of Mexican football, acquired at spells with Estudiantes Tecos, Cruz Azul, America, Dorados, Monterrey, Real San Luis and Tigres, gives him and his Uruguayan colleagues a significant edge. “Perhaps I could pass on a few details to my squad-mates about how some of them play, which is their stronger side and so on. But that’s about it.
“We respect the progress Mexico have made in recent years, but Uruguay-Mexico is not a clásico (derby). Our clásicos are against Argentina and Brazil because of the history involved,” continued Abreu, when quizzed on the rivalry between the two countries, before touching on El Tri’s impressive 2-0 win over France on 17 June. “None of the results in this group have surprised me because we knew beforehand it’d be very tight. In fact, every team is still in with a chance of qualifying.”
Keeping things tight
Having conceded just over a goal a game on average during South American Zone qualifying, Uruguay have kept clean sheets in both their matches at South Africa 2010 so far. “I don’t think that’s down to any major change, just the fact that we’ve been able to tweak a few things thanks to having more time to work together, which is impossible during qualifying,” said Abreu, scorer of six goals during the preliminaries, including a vital strike in the play-off success over Costa Rica.
“It’s all to do with the project at the heart of things: the priority is to play good football. And given the quality of the forwards we’ve got, it makes it easier to go for an attacking style.”
With that in mind, despite the fact that a point against Mexico would guarantee top spot in the section and avoid a Round of 16 meeting with likely Group B victors Argentina, El Loco assured us La Celeste would not be playing for a draw. “In my experience teams that play for a draw are more likely to lose," he said. "That’s why we’ll be going for the win while remaining cautious: if there’s 15 minutes to go and we have to settle for a point then that’ll do us.”
And finally, though Oscar Tabarez’s charges are within 90 minutes of the knockout phase, the veteran forward refused to get carried away: “We know how much excitement there is (back home), but we can’t afford to get sidetracked,” said Abreu.
“First we have to take on Mexico and finishing top of the group will be really important. Only once we’re through will we think about who we face next.”