The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Uruguay

Uruguay National Team

uruguay

La Celeste

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Uruguay

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 9-4-5
Current FIFA World Ranking (May 2018) – 17th
World Cup 2014 Finish – 2nd round exit (2-0 loss to Colombia)
Russia 2018 Group A (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay)
Formation – 4-3-1-2
Strengths – Experience, lethal attack
Weaknesses – Defensive cover, transition i.e. working the ball from back to front
Major Threats – Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani

After being an easy “dark horse” choice for the last two World Cup cycles, Uruguay now finds themselves in an awkward position. Long removed from the Copa America championship squad that held so much promise, there’s still more talent than what this team consistently shows.
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Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

Sure every country goes into the tournament with the aim of wanting to win the cup but beneath those grandiose dreams, every nation’s federation will have some more realistic goals that are based off past experience and the level of growth they think they have achieved over four years (through qualifying games and other matches). For La Celeste, the window to squeeze success from some of the older players will mean this could be their last great shot at success. Anything other than a semi-final appearance, despite only being ranked 17th by FIFA, feels like it would be a disappointment for Suarez and co.


DEFENSE:

The entirety of the Uruguayan defense will be based around captain Diego Godin, the star defender will always be a guarantee in the starting 11, and any attack will not enjoy the prospect of taking on the Atletico Madrid defender. During qualifying, Uruguay tried out a multitude of different looks, utilizing Gimenez, Coates, and a few others alongside Godin. However, we’d bank on seeing the Atletico Madrid pair of Godin and Gimenez getting the nod. There’s a lot to be said for a defensive pairing that has gotten to train with each other for an entire season AND just recorded a clean sheet in the Europa League Final. The pair is super strong in the air, and it’s unlikely that any of the teams in their group will attempt to conduct a multitude of aerial battles with the impressive pair. It also means that, in attack, if there’s ever a chance for a free kick, Godin will be the first target that Uruguay will aim for, it wouldn’t surprise us at all if Godin snags (at least) one goal in the group stage.

Uruguay’s left and right back gets a little bit dicey in terms of guessing the starting 11. The 23 man squad is chocked full of versatile defenders who are capable of playing anywhere, but we’d bank on Maxi Pereira (the current record holder for most international caps for Uruguay) holding down the right wing while Martín Cáceres occupies the left. Gastón Silva might end up out wide left, as Uruguay didn’t bring any natural left-side defenders on the roster, so it’s plausible especially given that Silva is left-footed. Cáceres loves to bomb down the wing, but if Silva is employed, it would be a fair bit more conservative of a play for the space out wide. Pereira, at 33, isn’t lighting up the sidelines so expect the support from wide defenders to be a bit lacking for Uruguay.

One area defensively where there aren’t any questions floating around will be if Uruguay are holding a slim lead heading into the final bit of play. Uruguay is bringing at least 3 players that usually play central defender (outside of Godin and Gimenez) that could easily be brought in to lock the doors for a slim victory.

While Uruguay’s defense is packed with experience and talent, it has been a gaping weakness in qualifying. Out of every automatic qualifier from CONMEBOL, Uruguay had the worst defensive record. Perhaps a testament to how much quality this group can possess, Uruguay also had 8 clean sheets in qualifying (2nd most in CONMEBOL). However, a testament to how hot/cold this group can be and how quickly things go south for this defensive group, Uruguay allowed multiple goals on 7 of the 10 occasions that they were scored on in qualifying. If a team scores one, it’s likely that Uruguay will allow another before the final whistle blows.

Fernando Muslera will definitely get the nod for the starting 11. He has always been a keeper that has shown up big on the international stage, but because of spending his time with Champions League level teams outside of the four major European leagues, he has never gotten the recognition that he deserves.

MIDFIELD

The biggest question mark heading towards Russia for the Uruguayan squad is the midfield. Despite housing talent, they haven’t been able to prove themselves capable of attaching the play from front to back, providing adequate cover for the back four, and chipping in to relieve some of the pressure from the front pairing. It seems like a tall order for one part of the 11, but it’s what is expected at this level.

The starting midfield four will be Carlos Sánchez attacking down the left, Matías Vecino providing defensive cover, Nicolas Lodeiro trying to push forward with Cavani and Suarez, and Cristian Rodríguez attacking down the right. The only player here that wasn’t used to the max during qualifying was Lodeiro, but he made more enough starting and sub appearances to give reason to believe he’ll could the starting nod. However, despite being a player that will be effective weaving in and out with Suarez/Cavani, Lodeiro is an absolute yellow card magnet. It’s almost more likely that Lodeiro will be banned from yellow accumulation than some of the defenders will. If Lodeiro doesn’t play, the solution may actually be a better option. Giorgian De Arrascaeta is an excellent ball playing #10 with superb vision and an ability to thread passes of all kinds. Coach Oscar Washington Tabarez has been coaching for longer than most countries have existed (half kidding) so he knows what he’s doing and his tendency to stick with the old guard must come from a place of vast experience but De Arrascaeta could be a gem at getting the ball to the deadly front two.

In terms of goals, this group isn’t overflowing with promise. The only midfielder to even get two goals was Cristian Rodriguez, so it’s tough to see the burden felt by the strikers being lifted by the mids. Rodriguez and Sanchez will probably be the only midfielders to even take shots during open play, but Sanchez’s biggest threat is in earning his team free-kicks in attacking areas. Don’t be surprised to see a foul on Sanchez result in some of the best chances that Uruguay gets during their Russian campaign.

The key for this group will be whether Vecino can allow the defense to keep the clean sheets that they’re completely capable of providing. Never afraid to get stuck into a challenge, it’s when Uruguay concedes a goal and Vecino starts trying to play more advanced that sees them usually allowing multiple goals. As we mentioned with the defense allowing multiple goals whenever they lose their clean sheet, it all comes down to Vecino and where he is playing (interesting note: Vecino had the 5th most shots for Uruguay during qualifying – but zero goals, this team doesn’t obtain success from Vecino pushing forward).

Perhaps one of the bigger stories in Uruguay’s midfield is who ISN’T heading to Russia. Egidio Arévalo Ríos, a player usually deployed in front of the defense, was the second most used midfielder in qualifying, but his lack of a club means he’s not fit for World Cup level play. They also aren’t bringing Álvaro González, another oft-used midfielder in qualifying who won’t be in Russia to help ensure that play can connect the solid defense to the lethal attack.

With every World Cup, there’s always a younger player that makes their name known or a player that suddenly explodes on the scene. Uruguay has two players who, while they won’t be making big money moves in the fall (they’re already contracted to Juventus or Real Madrid), might actually stake their claim to the future of their country’s helm. If he makes the final 23 man roster, Federico Valverde is a 19 year old central midfielder who spent this last season on loan at Deportivo from Real Madrid. Valverde has progressed up each rank of the national team as a key piece, and his entry into the senior team is only delayed by his age. He is definitely the future, as is Rodrigo Bentancur. Bentacur plays for Juventus and, while mostly sub appearances, was used 15 times over the course of the last season. Filling the gap of Cavani and Suarez might be impossible, but the future of Uruguay’s midfield is bright,perhaps both of these players will play a big role in Uruguay’s present?

Cavani

Edinson Cavani

STRIKERS

Perhaps the only spot on the Uruguayan starting 11 with zero guesswork. If they’re both healthy, Cavani and Suarez will be the sitting at the top of the squad leading the attack. Both players are coming off seasons with decent scoring totals though by their standards, they aren’t heading to Russia at the best that they’ve ever played. A dream duo for any fan of the FIFA video game, this duo makes sure that Uruguay is always a threat going forward. Considering the group that Uruguay has been placed in, both players will be hoping to amass a tally worthy of a World Cup scoring title.

However, their greatest strength is also one of the greatest weaknesses of this squad. Uruguay only has one other player with more than ten goals in their time at the international stage (Cristian Rodríguez with 11) and their player with the fourth most goals within the 26 man preliminary squad is a defender (Diego Godin with 8). This is why, if Suarez and Cavani get frustrated, the game may well and truly get away from Uruguay. Both Cavani and Suarez do not respond well to constant physical play, and they’re in a group where every squad’s best shot at getting points will be to frustrate this talented pair. Expect to see more fouls in Uruguay’s group fixtures than the rest of the World Cup matches and, if Cavani and Suarez can’t get their scoring going right off the bat, a group that could see Uruguay flop on the biggest of stages.

Two of the biggest factors with Uruguay’s strikers are items that are obvious to any fan of world soccer. The first is how ineffective Uruguay’s attack is if Luis Suarez isn’t on the field. Whether through suspension or injury, any time the national team spends without Suarez is a tough ask. Just look at the simple stat that Cavani, despite more caps than Suarez, has almost ten fewer goals than the Barcelona forward. Suarez has gone two straight World Cups with major controversies (2010 = handball against Ghana, 2014 = biting Chiellini), so it isn’t too far outside the realm of reason that Suarez could find himself sidelined by discipline issues when Uruguay need him the most.

The second issue for the strike force, much the same as in the midfield, is the passing of the torch. With Cavani and Suarez both probably looking at their last World Cup (at least the last WC where they’re starting), it will be interesting to see how much we get to see of Maximiliano Gomez (“Maxi”). The 21 year old striker has started to make an impact in La Liga with Celta Vigo. Scoring a bit better than a goal in every other game, especially for a club in the bottom half of the table, is an impressive accomplishment. If Maxi gets a few looks in and shows himself as a capable replacement to Suarez/Cavani, we seriously doubt that Maxi will be playing for Celta once the 2018-19 season begins. As far as the World Cup goes, he may be able to reduce the pressure on Suarez and Cavani to perform miracles and carry all the weight of Uruguayan hopes.

GAME by GAME (v Egypt, v Saudi Arabia, v Russia)

*Keys to Egypt game: Can Salah be closed down? Can Elnenny bully the Uruguayan midfield? Hector Cuper is a pragmatic manager who tends to favor sitting back and counterattacking with efficiency. Egypt have the weapons to do this and seeing how tough it can be for Uruguay to play a possession game without stopping Egyptian counters, this could be trouble. However, Uruguay’s front-line will be nearly impossible for Egypt to tie down for a full ninety minutes. If Uruguay can score early and set themselves up a bit better to counter the counter, this game could easily go their way. First to score wins?
Prediction: Uruguay walks out with a 3-1 win

*Keys to Saudi Arabia game: Uruguay’s Achilles heel in the last several major tournaments has been their inability to break down the underdogs. While Suarez and Cavani are lethal, both attackers frustrate quickly. Still, it’s simply impossible to not pick Uruguay here even with their historical slip-ups.
Prediction: Uruguay faces 11 men behind the ball the entire game, but manages to get out with a goal 1-0.

*Keys to Russia game: Igor Akinfeev is good for a mistake a game. As simple as it sounds, this means Uruguay must take as many shots at him and attack him directly as much as possible. He may be the captain of the Russian squad, but he still might the weakest link in the Russian chain. However, this match-up feels like the one where Uruguay resorts to the squad that consistently flops on the big stage.
Prediction: Russia gives the home fans a show and wins 4-3.

Tabarez

Oscar Tabarez

Here’s the likely Uruguayan Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Matin Silva (Vasco da Gama), and Martin Campana (Independiente)

DEFENDERS (7): Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Maximiliano Pereira (FC Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders), Gaston Ramirez (Sampdoria)

FORWARDS (4): Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (PSG), Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Piece by Andrew McCole, frequent Center Circle writer, boot prince, and never walking alone at Liverpool FC.

 

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About the author: Andrew McCole

 

If I may be so bold to condense my immense personality into two words, it would be: soccer nerd. I love everything about the beautiful game and I tend to reflect that in my writing. I suffer through Liverpool fandom and hope that they will win another title before my wife spreads my ashes at Anfield (considering I'm in my twenties, it seems somewhat likely). Although I also dabble in tennis, teaching, and coaching, most of my free-time is spent writing articles for The Center Circle! Feel free to stalk me on Google+

 

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