Onwards and upwards for Uruguay
© AFP

Though not currently in an automatic qualification berth for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Uruguay are by no means out of the running to make next summer's showpiece event. Impressive recent results have not only kept that dream alive, but also seen them move up in the prestigious FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.  

In their last two South Africa 2010 qualifying games, La Celeste outwitted group leaders Paraguay (2-0) and earned a crucial point away to Chile (0-0), consequently rising five places in the Ranking to 16 to break into the top 20 for the first time since October 2007. Their current standing is the third highest in Uruguay's history, the country having previously reached 14th (in May 1994 and July/August 2006) as well as 15th in September of that same year.  

At regional level, only Venezuela (+7) have moved up more places this month than Los Charrúas, who have also overtaken Paraguay to become South America's third-highest ranked team in the overall standings. It is a position the country has not held since October 2008, just after the current South American qualifying competition resumed.

I'm satisfied with what we've done so far, as we're still in a strong position and have opened up a small gap on the team in sixth.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez

 

The next big challenge for Uruguay comes this June, when they will be hoping to extend their fine recent form in the South American preliminary competition and challenge for direct qualification for South Africa 2010. First they welcome Brazil to Montevideo, then travel to Venezuela, and six points would not only put them in line for a finals berth, but bring them a step closer to a highly coveted place in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.  

Encouragingly for Uruguay, history suggests they should do well against their upcoming opponents. Regarding their showdown with Brazil, a veritable South American clásico since the Maracanazo of 1950 (when La Celeste stunned their neighbours by winning that year's FIFA World Cup at their expense), the stats tell us that in three qualification duels in Montevideo, the home side have won one (1-0 in 2001) and drawn two (1-1 in 1993 and 2005). Their record on Venezuelan soil should also instil confidence, with Los Charrúas having won three, drawn one and lost just one of their five games there. That said, it is 12 years since their last victory on Vinotinto soil, a 2-0 win in 1996 during the France 1998 qualifying campaign.

Their overriding objective, of course, is to reach South Africa. Presently, Uruguay occupy fifth spot on 17 points, three more than Ecuador and Colombia, their nearest pursuers. Summing up his team's campaign to date, coach Oscar Tabarez said recently: "I'm satisfied with what we've done so far, as we're still in a strong position and have opened up a small gap on the team in sixth. In our last two qualifying campaigns, we finished fifth both times and had to contest a play-off. This time around we hope to go one better and will continue to fight for that."

Given Uruguay's legendary fighting spirit, you would be unwise to bet against it.