Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez believes the opportunity to mix with the best in South Africa is bringing the greatest football out of his players after an indifferent build up to the FIFA World Cup™.
The South Americans completed the group stages of the competition with a 1-0 win over Mexico yesterday to move into the last 16 where they will next face Korea Republic. Only a few months ago La Celeste were struggling to even qualify for the global spectacle, but eventually piped Ecuador and Colombia for the play-off spot in the CONMEBOL region and then went on to edge Costa Rica to earn their ticket.
And they have outstanding so far in the competition, scoring four goals in their three games without conceding to finish top of Group A. Tabarez said: "In the qualifying round, we had good moments and bad moments. We thought if we managed to qualify for the World Cup, we would then have the better environment to work. You see a World Cup has a different motivation...great teams, great players and the qualifying round in South America is something else.
"We are trying to do what we had exactly in mind before the tournament. Now I don't think we've achieved that yet, but Uruguay is now a difficult opponent for anybody. We're happy about this, but we also know that we still have far to go. We are a tightly bonded group and we have lots of dreams."
The coach also revealed he was enjoying the tournament as a coach more than individually, but said he was an "excited citizen" of Uruguay after what had transpired so far.
He added: "I'm enjoying not so much the personal satisfaction, but I'm enjoying the World Cup as a coach to see how the team are playing. Players have evolved when they play, when they train and all these things come together. This is an excellent group we have here, there is cohesion amongst the players and they're really dedicated to the job they have to do. So as a Uruguayan citizen I feel very excited."
His opposite number Javier Aguirre was also pleased to have gotten to the next round - despite being unhappy with the way Mexico eventually got there. It meant that El Tri have now reached the last 16 of five consecutive FIFA World Cups and the coach was hoping they could extract revenge on their second round opponents, Argentina, who beat them at this stage four years ago in Germany.
"We wanted to go through, yes, and we managed that," he said. "Now we are with the 16 best teams in the world and we will now have to fight against the other 15 to see who is the best. I think this could be a nice opportunity to take revenge for what happened four years ago."
Asked why his side lacked energy against the Uruguayans, Aguirre added: "I guess the attitude (was missing). We really did not want to win the match. I guess what we were missing was the energy. We conceded the goal and then we tried to recover, but we couldn't and then towards the end we lost our spirit."