Uruguay's run to a first FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final in 40 years underlines just how significant a figure coach Oscar Tabarez is to the past and present of the national football team. After all, El Maestro previously guided La Celeste to the Round of 16 at Italy 1990 in his first spell in charge, while victory over Ghana on Friday would secure the country's first semi-final appearance since a 3-1 defeat by Brazil at Mexico 1970.
"Of course it would be marvellous to keep progressing in the competition," the 63-year-old coach told FIFA. "Even when you try not to think about it you can't help it. In my case, however, I try to stay focused and that's the same advice that I give my players. That's because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to what you do on the pitch. You have to take things one game at a time.
"In my country there are still people who think you should only celebrate when you win a title but I think that's plain wrong, given how competitive modern football is," added the former AC Milan and Boca Juniors boss when quizzed on the furore Uruguay's performances in South Africa have created back at home. "So, I think it's great that the fans take to the streets and celebrate what we've achieved so far. But we mustn't let ourselves get sucked in by that."
Tabarez is similarly ignoring any comparisons between the class of 2010 and Uruguay sides that won the world title in 1930 and 1950. "The thing is, because of our history, there's always a lot expected of Uruguay. And given that at previous tournaments we've not lived up to those expectations, a performance like this year's stands out even more. We'd prefer not to be compared to the teams from 1930 and 1950 but, if we were to beat Ghana, we'll still be in with a chance of matching their feats. So, of course, I understand why back home people see this as our most important game in decades, but I don't see that as added pressure."
'Backed by an entire continent'
When asked for his appraisal of last-eight opponents Ghana, the well-respected tactician used Uruguay's 3-0 Group A win against hosts South Africa as a starting point. "All the African sides are quick and powerful, but I think that Ghana have better players and are physically stronger than South Africa. That said, I don't think they're as fast, so we'll make the necessary tactical adjustments.
"Then we'll have to deal with the issue of motivation. Not only are Ghana trying to go further than their senior team have ever gone before, but they will have the backing of an entire continent. I’m sure they're going to cause us plenty of problems," he said cautiously, before touching on the fact that Uruguay have enjoyed less possession than their opponents in recent games. "That doesn't bother me because if you look at the stats, you'll see we had more shots on goal than the opposition. I don't deny that I'd like us to have more of the ball, because that means you have the upper hand and you don't need to rely on your defence so much. But what matters is to be well-covered in the most dangerous areas of the field.
"Of course Uruguay will be going out to win the match, because if we lose against Ghana we'll be out of the World Cup," added El Maestro, whose side will take on the west Africans at Johannesburg's Soccer City. "We've been through this situation once against Korea [Republic] and the team responded, but nobody knows what this game is going to bring. We've got the chance to continue making history, and we'll give everything we have to make it happen."