Of the six South American nations in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the enigmatic Uruguay could be the hardest to sum up.
At times breathtaking but equally just as frustrating, Oscar Tabarez’s La Celeste booked their ticket up north to Brazil via a two-legged play-off victory over Asia’s Jordan in November.
Their form throughout qualifying was up and down with wins over Colombia, Argentina and Chile the highlights while defeats to Bolivia and the Argentine side and a draw with Paraguay left a lot to be desired.
There is no shortage of quality within the Uruguayan ranks but it is consistency, or a lack thereof, which haunts them and could be their unraveling.
Uruguay have been drawn in a group which will certainly prove difficult for them as Italy, England and Costa Rica will all provide a stern test in the initial phase of the tournament.
They are the reigning Copa America champions following their 2011 triumph but taking on the world is a completely different situation which is sure to have the world’s sixth-ranked nation striving to find their best in a bid to return to the heights of finishing fourth in South Africa four years ago.
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Fixtures: Costa Rica - June 14 (Fortaleza), England - June 19 (Sao Paulo), Italy - June 24 (Natal)
Past outings against group opponents: Uruguay have a strong record against Costa Rica with six wins and two draws from eight meetings. The most recent encounter ended in a 1-1 draw in an intercontinental WC qualifier in November 2009 following Uruguay’s 1-0 win in the first leg.
Uruguay has an even record over the years with England having won four times, drawing on three occasions and losing thrice in 10 clashes. They have met in two World Cups in the past, winning 2-1 in the quarter-finals at Switzerland 1954 and playing out a 0-0 draw in London in 1966.
The Uruguayans have met Italy eight times in history, saluting twice, sharing four draws and losing on two occasions. Past WC meetings include a 0-0 draw at Mexico 1970 and a 2-0 triumph to the Azzurri at Italia 1990. Italy won 3-2 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw in the third-place play-off at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Salvador.
World Cup utopia: Reaching the semi-finals would probably exceed all expectations.
Doomsday scenario: Failing to qualify for knockout phase would be a disaster with the tournament being played so close to home. Short of that, losing to Costa Rica would be a nightmare.
Qualified by virtue of: Intercontinental play-off win over Jordan (5-0 aggregate).
Best result at a World Cup: WON (1930,1950)
A lot of Uruguay’s success or failure at Brazil 2014 will depend on the form of Liverpool ace Suarez.
The ridiculously talented yet provocative striker netted 11 of the side’s 25 qualifying goals and again it will be down to him to lead the way.
Thankfully there is a decent supporting cast in attack with PSG’s Cavani capable of the extraordinary while veteran Forlan, although now playing in Japan, is certainly no upstart especially when it comes to World Cups.
The defence is an issue as they leaked the same amount of goals as they scored which is not usually an ideal scenario when pondering the possible success of a football team in a tournament situation.
Tabarez will undoubtedly be putting plenty of time into the back half in order to plug the holes that appeared during the qualifying campaign but he would be brazen to tell his more creative players to alter the way they go about their business.
Their sternest examination will be against the Italians, who I’m backing to top the group, but do not discount a youthful England squad who will be coming out all guns blazing. The Costa Rica fixture should not pose too many problems for Uruguay who may only need one win and a couple of draws to get through.
The 2010 World Cup was a raging success for Uruguay and although they are probably not as attractive on paper this time around, I feel a sense of antiquity may be coursing through the players’ veins as they look to emulate the team of the 1950s who took the cup away from the Brazilians on their home soil.
A potential Round of 16 meeting with Colombia awaits before the possibility of a tantalising quarter-final clash with Brazil which will tip the continent to fever pitch if it is not there already by this stage of the tournament.
Twice winners in the past, Uruguay have a proud football history and will be determined to recreate those past glories next month but they will need to dig deep to find something that hasn’t been there recently in order to achieve success on the world’s biggest stage.
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