“Football is very changeable, particularly at international level when you’re not working together every day,” said Diego Godin when quizzed on Uruguay’s current run of form. Within the space of four games over five months, La Celeste have gone from near the top of the South American Zone standings in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying down to fifth – which would send them into the intercontinental play-offs – and level on points with both Venezuela (4th) and Chile (6th).
Three heavy defeats and one draw in their last four preliminaries are behind the dramatic slide of Oscar Washington Tabarez’s team, though some measure of relief came with November’s 3-1 friendly win over Poland. With Uruguay not back in competitive action until next year, FIFA.com got together with key centre-back Godin to gain his insight into their inconsistent 2012 and his hopes for 2013.
“We’ve not played well in the last few qualifiers,” admitted the Atletico Madrid man. “We only took one point and, obviously, that’s complicated things for us. Now we’ve got to pick up points away from home as well as winning our home games, but this squad’s done that before. We’ve proved that it can be done. [South American] qualifying is very tough. We’ve already been here before and managed to qualify, and we know we can do that this time too.”
Godin speaks from personal experience, thanks to the 63 senior caps. A fixture in the squad since coach Tabarez took the reins in 2006, the 26-year-old was a regular throughout South Africa 2010 qualifying. Back then, the Uruguay side that went on to reach the semi-finals on African soil only secured their passage to the showpiece via a heart-stopping intercontinental play-off victory over Costa Rica. And the prospect of having to go through that nerve-jangling experience once more has come back to the fore after La Celeste’s recent results.
“We want to be at this World Cup – we don’t care about anything else,” said Godin. “Of course we’d like to finish in the top four places, and we’ll fight to the very end to achieve that, but if we end up in the play-offs then so be it. Our goal is just to get to Brazil.”
In analysing Uruguay’s poor run of form, it is impossible not to focus on the 12 goals they have conceded in their last four games - a striking number for a national side traditionally known for its defensive fortitude.
“Recently we’ve been conceding the opening goal in games, which has caused the team to really lose its shape,” said Godin. “One of our strengths in the last few years, which have included a spectacular World Cup, winning the Copa America and making a strong start to this [Brazil 2014] qualifying phase, had been order and tactical discipline. And we’ve noticed that this discipline has unravelled when we've had to chase games. That’s led to us losing matches and losing them heavily.”
Lugano, Forlan under pressure
Said losses have been accompanied by waves of criticism, with two national-team veterans, in the shape of captain Diego Lugano, Godin’s central-defensive partner, and Diego Forlan, an ex-club-mate of Godin at Atleti, being singled out. Though the rangy defender preferred not to dwell on this trend, he did express a desire for fans and media to remember just how much this group of players have achieved.
“Inside the camp we’re keeping calm, but when criticism comes your way it does bother you how short people’s memories are,” he said. “You can’t just forget everything that we’ve achieved because of what’s happened in the past couple of months.
“In Lugano’s case, a lot of the talk is because he’s not getting games for his club. As for Forlan, we’re so used to such high standards from him that, having not scored in our last few games, things have also turned a bit ugly. Criticism is normal and so is talk about generational overhauls, but El Maestro Tabarez has made it abundantly clear how he views the national squad and the new blood that he’s already brought in.”
Fortunately, the friendly win over Poland has enabled Uruguay to end 2012 on a positive note, before everyone involved recharges their batteries ahead of a 2013 that features involvement in the FIFA Confederations Cup – as well as the finishing straight on the road to Brazil 2014.
“We need to really draw strength from each other inside the squad and make sure we’re all fit and in good form,” Godin commented, with a view to March’s qualifiers at home to Paraguay and away to Chile. “There’s nothing more mysterious to it than that. These things are temporary, we’ve just got to start getting results and picking up points any way we can.”