Rio de Janeiro, 1950. Brazilian fans were planning the party. Their national team had reached the final fixture of the FIFA World Cup without losing a single game. They needed only a draw against their Uruguayan neighbours, who had seemingly arrived as victims, to secure the coveted Trophy. But Obdulio Varela, Juan Schiaffino and their team-mates had other ideas…
Everyone knows the story of the Maracanazo, but what about this one? Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela, 2013. The Vinotinto are up against a Uruguay team who haven’t won any of their last six games. Win this one and a World Cup spot would be just around the corner for Venezuela. But Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and their team-mates had other ideas…
Given the size of the country and its number of inhabitants, Uruguay has enjoyed disproportionate success in football. Two FIFA World Cups, several more Olympic competitions, numerous Copas America title. None of those triumphs were, however, a walk in the park. La Celeste learned to suffer before learning to win – and that means Uruguayan footballers are a rare breed, because they are at their best when their backs are against the wall, when everything seems lost.
We have gone through a lot and have always survived. Play-offs, difficult matches, extreme situations – and here we are.
That’s exactly the situation in which the players coached by 'El Maestro' Oscar Tabarez find themselves now. Beaten in their first fixture by Costa Rica, losing again at Brazil 2014 is now strictly prohibited. The problem, however, is that their next two rivals are Italy and England. Another desperate situation.
Nevertheless, the Uruguayans aren’t throwing in the towel. In an exclusive conversation with FIFA.com, they reveal their confidence in turning this complicated situation around. Diego Forlan is first. “Of course it won’t be easy,” he admitted. “But this team has been together for a long time and we know what we're capable of. We have to do our work on the pitch, play as we know how, and I believe that will be sufficient to achieve the results we need.”
Edinson Cavani is even more adventurous, claiming that his side have always known how to produce their best when time is ticking away. “It’s true, people say that a lot about Uruguay,” he said. “We have gone through a lot and have always survived. Play-offs, difficult matches, extreme situations – and here we are. This generation has won almost everything and knows how to do so."
However, the Paris Saint-Germain striker warns that there is no margin of error for La Celeste now. “Keeping our concentration will be key,” he said. “We cannot make mistakes because another defeat would be too much against rivals of this quality. But I believe it’s exactly that which will allow us to quickly regain our morale. We face England and then Italy, not just any old teams, and we have to beat them.”
That’s why Uruguay are remaining calm, despite the surprising defeat to Costa Rica in the opening game at Brazil 2014. Their players know what it is to have their backs to the wall and come out alive, against all odds.
“In the dressing room we were sad after the game against Costa Rica,” Forlan remarked. "But we know this is just the beginning and that the rest of story is there to be written.”
So if the English and the Italians think they have the Uruguayans on the ropes, ripe for a knockout blow, they had better think again. Because Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and their team-mates just may have other ideas.