By Juan Arango
Argentina and Brazil are obviously the two countries that have exported crazy amounts football players. The country that is right behind them it Uruguay. So why is that such a big deal? The population of Uruguay is 1/13th and 1/50th of the population of their South American neighbors.
To put it into more perspective the city of São Paulo alone is ten time the population of Uruguay. This is what makes the Charruas that much more interesting as well as appealing.
The Uruguayan federation have really committed to developing the game at the youth level and bring in (or back) a coach that was able to balance the grit as well as the skill of the Uruguayan footballer in Oscar Washington Tabárez. Coaches like Juan Ramón Carrasco believed in being offensive all the time- to a fault.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Under Tabárez they have been able to balance those two characteristics out a little better- although it has come at a huge cost. The domestic press criticized the coach’s decisions and the level of play of the team despite qualifying in an anguishing playoff against Costa Rica back in November. They also did suffer some tough losses at home such as the historic loss to Brazil 4-0 in the past World Cup qualifiers.
All of that is long gone now that their team finds itself just 90 minutes away from their first trip to the semis since 1970. Ironically, if things go as expected they could face the same team that eliminated them back then- Brazil.
Many weren’t even sure if they would even surpass the group stage, but in the end they were able to not only get through; but win the group and beat South Korea in the process. Now they find themselves just 90 minutes from making history and continuing CONMEBOL’s torrid run in the first Cup held on African soil.
Uruguay has one of the richest footballing traditions in the world, but those memories had long eroded. These past generations only remember the side that won the Copa América back in 1995. Those images of Alcides Ghiggia beating the Brazilians back in 1950 are part of lore, but also grainy, black-and-white images that seem distant to many. For many years, Uruguay was in complete disarray as a federation.
The national team was not organized and the chaos seemed imminent. For many years, the Uruguayan Federation (AUF) did very little to maintain a national side that had won Olympic gold as well as two World Cups at a high competitive level. Their edge as well as relevance in the world football scene began to erode because of that lack of order.
I had the chance to interview former Peñarol and national team legend Fernando Morena and he mentioned that the federation thought that even with lesser talent Uruguay could be competitive because of their garra charrúa.
Their style of play was based more on the strength and will of their players than any skill that they could offer. Although the players were highly skilled, they would often recur to these tactics in order to pound out a result. Although as football became more modern, this tactic became less and less effective.
That type of play could only get a team so far in a tournament like the World Cup and they realized that as they were eliminated in the second round of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. Then came the dryspell.
They produced incredible amounts of players yet their success never translated over to the international level.
With all the players they have exported to leagues all over the world, that success has not translated to consistency at the international level. With players like Enzo Francescoli, Pablo Bengoechea, Álvaro Recoba, Sebastián Eguren, Diego Godín, Marcelo Zalayeta, Paolo Montero, Diego Lugano, Richard Morales, Sebastían Abreu, and Diego Forlán the Uruguayan national team has only been in two World Cups since their miraculous goal by Daniel Fonseca back in 1990.
This is why their recent run of form dating back to the U-20 World Cup was a vital turning point for Uruguayan football. The emergence of players like Nicolás Lodeiro as well as Matías Aguirregaray, Jonathan Urrietaviscaya, andn Luis Suárez have been the players that will take the baton from the present generation.
What better example to take than this current Charrúa run for Uruguayan football to make a relevant history for the younger generations to truly appreciate the history of the game and make a better connection with the past. For three million fans, they are 90 minutes away.