Suarez and Cavani fight in the favelas: World Cup Preview - Uruguay
Double World Cup winners Uruguay have two very notable World Cup wins under their belt. As well as having hosted and won the first ever World Cup back in 1930, they also won the last World Cup in Brazil back in 1950. Although it’s been a long drought since then, Los Charrúas head into the 2014 World Cup with a lot of momentum and indeed experience after an impressive showing in South Africa. The reigning Copa America champions have been drawn in a relatively tough group alongside Italy, England and Costa Rica, but a world class strike-force of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez is a partnership fit to rival the very best in football.
How They Qualified
The CONMEBOL region of Qualifying entails all teams playing each other twice, home and away, in a league style format. The top 4 finishing teams qualify automatically for the Finals in Brazil, with the 5th placed team competing in an intercontinental play-off against the 5th placed team from the ‘AFC World Qualifying Tournament’.
While goal scoring wasn’t a problem for the Uruguayans, conceding late goals, twice against Paraguay and once Venezuela, cost them a total of 6 points – and making the difference between finishing 5th and finishing 2nd. At least Uruguay still knew their fate was in their own hands, with a play-off against Jordan deciding who progressed to Brazil. A comfortable 5-0 away win in the first leg all but sealed their place in Brazil, and that proved the case with a 0-0 stalemate second leg. Luis Suarez finished the CONMEBOL region as top scorer with 11 goals, one ahead of Lionel Messi.
Manager Óscar Tabárez has selected an experienced squad to take to Brazil, with 14 of the 23 players over the 50 cap mark for their nation. The selection of Diego Forlan – despite now plying his trade in Japan with Cerezo Osaka, and Diego Lugano – now a free agent after being released by West Brom, provide a wealth of major tournament experience. Forlan has been the figurehead for Uruguay since his international debut in 2002, and showed his worth to the country as joint top scorer in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Another interesting selection choice by Tabárez is the includion of Liverpool centre back Sebastián Coates. The defender didn’t play a single game for Liverpool in the 2013-14 season after tearing his cruciate ligament playing in a friendly against Japan back in August 2013, so it is certainly a gamble to pick the 2011 Copa America Young Player of the Tournament as part of the World Cup squad.
25 Man Preliminary Squad
Goalkeepers; Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Rodrigo Muñoz (Libertad)
Defenders; Maxi Pereira (Benfica), Diego Lugano (West Bromwich Albion), Diego Godin, José Giménez (Atletico Madrid), Sebátian Coates (Liverpool), Martin Cáceres (Juventus), Jorge Fucile (Porto)
Midfielders; Alejandro Silva (Lanus), Álvaro González (Lazio), Álvaro Pereira (Sao Paulo), Walter Gargano (Parma), Egidio Arévalo Ríos (Morelia), Diego Pérez (Bologna), Sebastián Eguren (Palmeiras), Cristian Rodríguez (Atletico Madrid), Gastón Ramírez (Southampton), Nicolás Lodeiro (Botafogo)
Forwards; Luis Suárez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Abel Hernández (Palermo), Diego Forlán (Cerezo Osaka), Christian Stuani (Espanyol)
Strengths and Weaknesses
In the highly experienced squad selected, a clear strength is the sheer attacking prowess. It is widely agreed that Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez are simply world class players. Suarez finished the year having to share the European Golden Boot with Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring 31 goals, and would surely have won the trophy outright had he not missed the first 8 games of the season through suspension. Cavani himself, despite an indifferent season at PSG playing on the wing a lot of the time, has still managed a fruitful return of 25 goals in all competitions. The manager will have an experienced and pacy bench to call on too, with Forlan and Abel Hernandez respectively.
One weakness of the Uruguayan squad is the lack of a quality midfield anchorman – a valuable asset and something which every top nation appears to have. Another weakness may be the knee injury sustained by Luis Suarez. The star man underwent minor surgery early this week in a race to be fit for the first World Cup game. If Suarez does miss one game, it shouldn’t be a deciding factor – and even if Suarez is fit to play in the opener, don’t be surprised to see him rested to minimise the potential future risk.
A major factor behind Liverpool’s fantastic season and title challenge was the consistent form of Luis Suarez. The man Arsenal infamously bid £40,000,000.01 for last summer showed he was worth more than double that this season. 31 goals and 24 assists later, Suarez is rumoured to be a World Record transfer target for Real Madrid, despite stating on numerous occasions that he is very happy in England. Still aged only 27, Suarez is Uruguay’s top international scorer with 38 goals from only 77 games. Memories of Suarez’s contribution in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa flood back, for all the wrong reasons. Sweethearts of the competition, Ghana, were looking good against Uruguay in the Quarter Finals, but were denied a goal in the dying seconds of Extra Time by a goal-line handball from Suarez. Despite being sent off and Ghana being awarded a penalty, it was saved and Uruguay went on to win the game 4-2 on penalties. While Suarez has straightened up his act since then, and this season especially, he will hope to steal the headlines again in Brazil – but for the right reasons.
The contribution of Edinson Cavani, or El Matador as he is known by many in his homeland, may well be the key as to how far Uruguay can go in the tournament. After his £55million move from Napoli to PSG last summer, Cavani hasn’t had as big an impact as he may have hoped to. Being deployed as an inside forward on the right wing a lot of the time, Cavani has recently hinted that he isn’t happy with his role in Paris – reportedly alerting Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Juventus and Real Madrid. Although not old by any stretch, this could well be Cavani’s last World Cup at the very top of his game. His partnership with Luis Suarez is one that any country would dream of having. If Suarez and Cavani can both score a handful of goals, expect Uruguay to go far in Brazil.
Tipped as a dark horse for the World Cup, Uruguay will be aided in their quest by the defensive prowess and class of Diego Godin. The resolute Centre Back has had a career best season by a long way, and he will look to continue his exemplary club form with Atletico to the international stage. Godin has chipped in with crucial goals this season, including the header against Barcelona in the final game of the season gave Atletico the league title, and his opener in the Champions League Final that left his side a minute away from lifting the Champions League. Godin will likely partner Captain Diego Lugano in the heart of the defence. Godin has proved to be a match winner even from his defensive position for club and country.
Potential Starting XI
An opening World Cup game with or without Suarez should provide a victory for Uruguay. A big win can increase confidence ahead of the game against an England team who will likely set up in a very defensive and compact manner. The final group game against Italy is expected to decide who wins the group and progresses in the most favourable position to the Round of 16.
The Uruguayan squad has many players in the peak years of their career – around 27 and 28. Motivation and drive will be at a premium, with many players knowing that this could be last big chance to have a storming World Cup. I believe the erratic Italians will fall short to a group topping Uruguay, inspired by Suarez and Godin. The Knockout stages are always a lottery, but a Group win could set up a game against Japan or Ivory Coast from an unpredictable Group C. Maybe not as significant, but the Brazilian climate could also work in Uruguay’s favour.
Predicted Finish: Quarter Finals