Historically, soccer fans overlook Uruguay more than any other nation in regards to the World Cup.
‘La Celeste’ is the original master of the beautiful game. Uruguay pioneered success on the world’s stage for generations. ‘The Sky Blues’ hold the coveted feat of winning the first World Cup in 1930. It repeated that glory upon the tournament’s resumption in 1950 after World War II.
Winning the 1950 Jules Rimet trophy was Uruguay’s statement that they are no fluke. In the final match between Uruguay v. Brazil, Alcides Ghiggia capitalized on an egregious error by legendary Brazilian goalkeeper Barbosa. Historians dub this match Maracanaco, or ‘the blow of the Maracanã.’ Over 200,000 fans packed into that famous stadium only to watch Uruguay be crowned champions of the world.
While nothing can compare to the glory of 1930 and 1950, Uruguay still presents a challenge for the World Cup crown.
Looking back to South Africa 2010, Uruguay placed fourth, 12th, and fifth in three consecutive World Cups. In Russia 2018, Uruguay dominated its group. Edinson Cavani’s two goals defeated Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, 2–1, in the round of 16. Yet, a meeting with Les Bleus in the quarterfinals was too much. A poor game in goal from Fernando Muslera helped France to a 2-0 win. Of course, France went on to win the tournament, so there is little shame for Uruguay in that regard.
Despite the success in its history, Uruguay possesses slim chances to add a third World Cup trophy to its resume. In fact, the betting odds for Uruguay are at +5,000 to win the competition, good for 12th entering the tournament. Moreover, it is not the favorite to win its group, trailing Portugal in what is a tough slate.
Uruguay in the 2022 World Cup group stage
Those group games consist of a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, a familiar foe looking back at 2018. Also, Uruguay matches up against South Korea and Ghana. The South American side has a history with Ghana, as Luis Suarez’s handball effectively sent Ghana home in dramatic fashion.
Uruguay’s ‘must-win’ debut match against South Korea forgives possible points dropped against Portugal. But, Uruguay’s fate could come down to matchday three. La Celeste shifts its focus toward an elite Ghana team. Ghana has a barrage of Premier League players. For example, Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey, Southampton defender Mohammed Salisu, and Crystal Palace striker Jordan Ayew represent Ghana. Additionally, Ghana has speed and agility up top with 19-year-old Felix Ohene-Gyan and Athletic Club striker Inaki Williams announced its availability for Ghana.
Uruguay, for its part, is not necessarily short on talent, either. Spurs’ midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, Fenerbahçe’s Diego Rossi and news Liverpool addition Darwin Núñez are 25, 24 and 23, respectively. Combine that with players like Ronald Araujo, Federico Valverde and the always-reliable tandem of Suarez and Edinson Cavani, Uruguay is a side to keep an eye on.
For these veterans, Qatar 2022 is their fourth World Cup cycle dating back to that run to the semifinals in South Africa.
It is a pleasure to watch El Matador and El Pistolero team up in the sky blue shirt. Both Cavani and Suarez enter with Uruguay at the 2022 World Cup at the age of 35, certainly past their dominant primes.
No one can forget Cavani’s illustrious tenure with PSG. There, he scored 138 goals throughout the 2010s. Moreover, El Matador generously offered his No. 7 jersey for the return of Cristiano Ronaldo during his final season with Manchester United. Instead, Cavani sported his national no. 21 in a decent season with 12 goals and 41 caps in the all competitions.
Luis Suarez exceeded Cavani’s feat with equal prowess during his reign at Barcelona. Teaming with Lionel Messi and Neymar for much of his tenure, Suarez bagged 147 goals throughout the last decade. An untimely departure from Camp Nou gained the sympathy of Lionel Messi. It all worked in the end. For instance Suarez scored the league-clinching goal as ‘Los Colchoneros’ finished higher than both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the 2020/21 campaign.
Atlético suited Suarez. After all, the club demands the highest intensity and scrutiny with physical play. This matches the general playstyle of Uruguay in international competition. Nonetheless, Suarez and Cavani end the 2021/22 season as free agents.
All signs point to Qatar 2022 being their swan song of international competition.
‘The Sky Blue’ carry the weight of their nation’s history. Uruguayan players display an animated, graphic-novel-esque presence in their demeanor. There’s a zest that their national team brings to the field. Yet, a grit ever-present, washing over their expressions, represents their valor.
Cast in the shadow of neighbors Argentina and lost in the haze of favorites Brazil, Uruguay is left out of the discussion. Yet, though Uruguay is bested by the pedigree of their South American neighbors, La Celeste’s mighty presence wins the hearts of many soccer fans as sure contenders to place as far as the quarterfinals in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Considering Uruguay share the status of ‘two-time World Cup champions’ with Argentina, their legacy remains exceptional. Primarily because after beating Brazil in 1950La Celeste performs as an underdog.
Nonetheless, a spark ignited in the 2000s when Uruguay left its mark around the globe with Diego Forlán – arguably one of the greatest forwards of his era. Nicknamed after an Argentine cartoon character ‘Cachavacha,’ the former Man United and Atlético forward struck 36 goals in 112 caps during his tenure for La Celeste.
Regardless of how they finish, Uruguay enters Qatar 2022 with a unique legacy as a soccer house that stands in a class of its own.
PHOTO: Felipe Oliveira/Getty Images