Montevideo, May 26 (DPA) After edging Costa Rica in an inter-continental play-off, Uruguay became the 32nd and final team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
One of just seven teams to lift the World Cup trophy, Uruguay have done it twice – albeit those successes are firmly rooted in history: at the inaugural tournament on home soil in 1930 and then again 20 years later when they shocked the hosts in Brazil.
Although they have only qualified for one of the previous four World Cups, Uruguay have an upbeat attitude despite being placed into a difficult group.
They’ve been drawn alongside such renowned powers in world football as 1998 champions France and perennial qualifiers Mexico, not to mention the tricky business of facing off against the South African hosts.
But the players and coach Oscar Tabarez both feel the time is right for Uruguay to reclaim their past majesty.
‘We have a duty to our country’s great footballing history. Some people call it prehistory but they are only saying that because they dont 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,’ Tabarez insisted recently.
In reality, little is expected of Uruguay in the first finals held on African ground as their charge through the South American qualifying competition was stop-start at best.
They won only six matches out of 18 in the marathon South American zone qualifiers, with six draws and six losses and winning only one match out of eight against the other South American teams that went on to qualify for South Africa 2010. This discrepancy speaks to a significant gap between Uruguay of today and her more illustrious neighbours.
In his second stint in charge of the national team, Tabarez has assembled a squad heavy on discipline but short on individual stars.
Diego Forlan remains the teams out-and-out goal threat, with Sebastian Abreu also a likely candidate to chip in with a tally or two in South Africa, despite his being used mostly as an off-the-bench substitute of late.
Hulking centre-back Diego Lugano of Fenerbahce, Luis Suarez, Alvaro Pereira and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera are also likely difference-makers for the bustling South Americans hopefuls.
Opening in Cape Town against the star-studded French, a team known as slow starters in international competition, Uruguay may well just be in a position to spring an early surprise to get their World Cup journey off on the all-important right path from the outset.
In a cautious assessment of their chances, star man Forlan says, ‘we know Uruguay are never going to start as favourites but were there and were not ruling anything out.’
The coach: Tabarez is a coach whose reputation precedes him, and the esteem in which he is held in South American football circles has earned him the nickname El Maestro. Having coached at club level in Colombia, Argentina, Italy, Spain and his native Uruguay, the manager holds the reins of the national team for a second time since his initial stint from 1988 to 1990.
He led Uruguay to their last win in the World Cup – a late 1-0 victory over South Korea at Italia 90 that sent them into the second round. Since taking over three years ago, he has orchestrated a sustainable youth system and marked a path forward for a revival in Uruguayan football.
The star: Diego Forlan, 30, is Uruguays one true star. The former Manchester United, Villarreal and current Atletico Madrid ace has a proven eye for goal at both club and country level. He has already scored on the worlds biggest stage with goals against Japan and Senegal in Uruguays disappointing group stage exit at the finals in Korea/Japan 2002, the last World Cup in which the country participated.
He has won Europe’s Golden Shoe as continental top scorer twice, including at the end of the 2008 season when he scored 32 times for Atletico. With speed, panache and a killer final touch, the blond marksman is a serious threat to his Group A opponents.