Just like the fans of the other 31 teams preparing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Uruguay supporters have been assessing their heroes’ chances of success ever since the Final Draw was made in Cape Town last December.
Pitched into the same section as the tournament hosts, France and Mexico, the current Charrúa crop are intent on emulating the finest achievements of their illustrious predecessors, as their coach Oscar El Maestro Tabarez explains.
“We have a duty to our country’s great footballing history,” he tells FIFA.com. “Some people call it prehistory but they’re only saying that because they don’t have any history of their own to talk about. We need to have some kind of link with those great champions, at least in terms of our footballing culture and what it means to us.”
In recent weeks that status has been the subject of heated discussion between Mexican and Uruguayan users of FIFA.com, who have been talking up their teams’ respective chances of success at South Africa 2010 on the site’s forums. Expertly sidestepping the debate, the wily Tabarez chooses to reveal his vision for the immediate future instead.
“That’s not our only responsibility,” he explains. “We also have a responsibility to the youngsters, the little ones who have never seen the national side win an international trophy. Earning qualification against Costa Rica gave us cause for celebration but now we’re looking to achieve something more important.”
I’m also more mature and more experienced. I know very well, for example, that the only thing you can do in the first round is qualify for the next.
“In the friendly with Switzerland [a 3-1 win in St. Gallen last Wednesday] we finally got on with what we like doing best, and that’s playing football. Our main focus now is on the last two weeks of May, which is when we’ll be doing our fine-tuning. Our goal is to fight all the way in South Africa without trying to picture what the future might bring. We have our expectations, but we are fully aware of the realities around us.”
Ever the realist, El Maestro knows exactly what to expect come June, having taken La Celeste to Italy 1990. “Twenty years have gone by since that World Cup, and as well as being older I’m also more mature and more experienced. I know very well, for example, that the only thing you can do in the first round is qualify for the next. That’s the only objective there is – to get through and be there for the start of the real World Cup in the last 16.”
The perfect stage
Tabarez was in Sun City last month for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Team Workshop, and is full of praise for the hard work the host nation is putting into the big event.
“It’s a good thing that Africa has been given the opportunity as everyone has the right to stage this event,” he enthused. “It’s a huge challenge for the South Africans but it’s worth it. It is the greatest sporting competition in the world after all, and I think the Organising Committee have done their bit. We’ve got some top-class stadiums and it’s just a case of adding the finishing touches now. The really important stuff is just about to begin: 32 teams trying to play good football.”
The South African climate in June is sure to be an advantage for the Uruguayan players, as Tabarez acknowledges. “We’ll try and make the most of the cold weather by staying put in Montevideo and doing all our preparations there, where the temperatures will be exactly the same. This is only the fifth World Cup to take place during winter months and that should ensure we see better football.”
Chilly conditions aside, what does the former Penarol, Boca Juniors, Cagliari and AC Milan coach expect from his charges once they get to South Africa? “We’ve got some very good players and others of a slightly lower level, and the important thing will be to get the structure right,” he replies. “The team’s been working together for the last four years and it’s well-drilled, although that’s something we’ll only know for sure when the ball starts rolling. Our ultimate goal is to show the links that bind us to our nation’s great champions.”