As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.
For this interview, focusing on Uruguay, we spoke with Juan Arango; he’s a correspondent with the Telegraph, Al Jazeera, BBC while also working with Soccerly and World Soccer Talk. Follow him on Twitter @JuanG_Arango
In their prime, this Uruguayan squad achieved a remarkable semi-finals finish in 2010, but with Oscar Tabarez trusting largely the same squad four years later, doesn’t it seem a bit of a risk? Could this tried & tested team strategy backfire? Or will the experience come out on top?
Like many other coaches around the world, Oscar Washington Tabárez is a coach that is extremely loyal to his players. That being said, the squad is a bit long on the tooth, although the squad has also responded. It is very tough to let a team as successful as this just dismantle midstream in a World Cup qualifying cycle.
At the same time, some of the kids that are coming up are just a bit too young to put them into a spot where a mistake could cost them a spot in the World Cup.
But an important player that could see his role reduced is Diego Forlán. The Cerezo Osaka man is far from his form compared to 2010, but can still contribute in spots. Also look at the midfield with Egidio Arévalo Ríos, Diego Pérez and Walter Gargano and how are they going to perform in front of Lugano and Godín. They are the ones that offer the bite in the middle of the pitch and could give the likes of Andrea Pirlo lots of headaches.
This will also be a major World Cup for both Gastón Ramírez and Nicolás Lodeiro. Both have been expected to become major players in the national team but so far they have underwhelmed. Ramírez still does not have the ability to take up a key role that many expected him to early on and the same goes for Lodeiro.
For all the risk that there is, you also have to see that there are players that are in fine form at their respective clubs. The two players that are at the top of the list are Luis Suárez as well as Diego Godín. You also see players like Cavani that ended the season strong at PSG and Fernando Muslera. The Galatasaray goalkeeper is the undisputed man under the sticks for Tabárez and that offers a great deal of comfort for any coach. Also Abel Hernández had a brilliant campaign helping Palermo return to Serie A this season.
Diego Lugano has barely played competitive football this past season and is now going to lead Uruguay into the World Cup. Does the lack of game time for a player at the heart of Uruguay’s defence concern you? How do you see Uruguay setting up defensively?
If you see the reverence that the squad has for Lugano, you’d immediately understand the impact he has. Does lack of playing time concern? If I was coach, it would. Uruguay will most likely line up the same way they have in recent years. Pereira, Lugano, Godín, Cáceres.
There is a bit of a risk. Lugano is far from the form that saw him as a dominant force in the back like he was in 2010. Yet the club still have a great deal of respect for him as they refer to him as “my captain”. On the pitch, Lugano is a liability but his leadership helped Tabárez rally his squad back from adversity when they were able to come away with the World Cup spot in the playoff.
Uruguay have certainly been placed in an extremely difficult group, do you see the familiarity with South American conditions working as an added advantage to Oscar Tabarez’ men, as opposed to the European powerhouses?
As I was saying prior to the Confederations Cup last year, Europeans will be in for a World Cup like they’ve never seen before.
When you have a team that have 90 percent of your squad having to fly 7-8 time zones to play two matches in a four-day span is very taxing. Add to that the fact that you can play at sea-level in one match and over 3,000 meters above sea level in La Paz the other or play in 30-40 degree weather in Colombia or Venezuela and then play in the middle of winter of Argentina or Chile three days later. So not just from a physical and mental standpoint is it taxing but also from a topographical one it is. Also add the distances that need to be traveled within the continent. This is an advantage for teams like Uruguay as well as Costa Rica that they might have over Italy and England.
England will get a little taste of that when they play in the heat of Manaus and wrap up their play in a Belo Horizonte where the conditions will feel more fall-type weather than anything else.
Uruguay’s midfield is usually set out to do a clear defensive job, the creativity will be spun from key player, Luis Suarez. But it would always be a risk to depend on a player in the attacking third for creativity; where else do you see creative heads in the Uruguayan side?
Uruguay will get to see some push and creativity in the wings. Cristián Rodríguez will be vital on the left. Also look at Cristian Stuani of Espanyol to make a difference as well. Since arriving Stuani became a major contributor. There is also Forlán that could end up taking up that role to help his teammates be more effective in front of goal, though his role remains unclear in the side. Yes they don’t have a Pirlo-type player in the midfield that can take out the paintbrush and offer a magical pass to the men up front.
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My opinion is that Gastón Ramírez has to show up as well as Nico Lodeiro. Them stepping up could help Suárez stay up higher and not have to cover as much space as he’s forced to at times, especially when the run of play is not favorable.
Uruguay struggled in the South American qualifiers, having to take the long play-off route to the finals. What could be the reason for this and what measures does Tabarez need to take to ensure it doesn’t continue?
There is a saying in Uruguay, “Uruguayans were born with a calculator in their hands in order to figure out how they’re going to get to the World Cup.” Whatever Tabárez has done to “prevent” World Cup qualifying troubles hasn’t worked. If he ever comes up with a magic potion to prevent that malaise, I am sure that many will want that. CONMEBOL is the toughest region in the world when it comes to World Cup qualifying play.
We’ll start to see even more changes in Uruguay’s side come Copa America next year. That’s when you will start to see the younger players come into the mix. Now does that change include a new coach? We will have to wait until the AUF elections on July 31. After that we will see the changes that will take place in the squad leading to Copa América, Copa Centenario in the US and World Cup qualifiers as well.
We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Do you see Jose Maria Gimenez having any sort of role to play at the World Cup? What can we expect from the Atletico youngster?
With Diego Lugano being susceptible in the back, there could be the chance that we see José María Giménez get some playing time. He will have to be ready. The kid is the real deal. During the U-20 World Cup some pundits in Uruguay were looking at him as a modern-day Obdulio Varela. The kid is extremely mature even as a teenager still.
But despite all of this Giménez is a kid that is the flag bearer for this generation of up and coming Uruguayan players. The future is extremely bright for Uruguay if you start to look at 2018 and beyond. Players like Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Federico Gino, Guillermo Varela, Diego Laxalt, Diego Rolín and even Brazilian-born Felipe Gedoz (also a Uruguayan citizen) can go into your #TalentRadar search. This generation could help La Celeste do some important things in Russia.
Uruguayan fans have built up expectations ahead of the tournament, even dreaming of a repeat of the impossible in 1950. Do you believe Uruguay have what it takes to go all the way in Brazil? Where do you realistically see them finishing?
This could be the first World Cup in a while where Uruguayan fans have expectations coming in. Uruguay could get to quarters if the cards fall in the right manner. They will complicate many teams in the tournament, regardless of where they exit. If you want to beat Uruguay, you have to knock them out early. If you keep them hanging around they have the players that could make their moments of brilliance count when they are at hand.