Although World Cup qualification is not in any danger, causing a rumble in Russia is if Uruguay do not ditch some old timers in the team
After a great run which saw the side losing just once in eight qualifiers, Uruguay have hit a bump on the road to Russia 2018.
Losses to Brazil and Peru this international break means Uruguay are now on a three-match losing streak and it has relegated the 2011 Copa América-winners to third position in the CONMEBOL standings, putting them back in a five-horse race for World Cup qualification.
It has also let one topic come back to the surface again. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez might cover up a lot, but the truth is that the Uruguay squad, as composed right now, is not good enough if Uruguay want to really challenge in Russia in 2018.
It’s blinding obvious.
And the frustrating thing about it is that it’s a situation that doesn’t have to be the reality because Uruguay have exports currently impressing week-in-week-out that get completely overlooked. Uruguay manager Oscar Tabárez, however much he has done for Uruguayan football, is in a state of denial and has been for some time now.
A quick look at the Uruguay line-up vs. Brazil on Thursday night sees at least two Uruguayans feature who shouldn’t be starting for Uruguay anymore. First up is a man every Uruguayan loves; Arévalo Rios. The 35-year-old is earning his living in Mexico for Veracruz and is still an important player in Tabárez’ eyes.
In my eyes, however, he’s not a top-level footballer. The fact that he isn’t even fully in shape and still represents one of the most iconic countries in world football is an insult to any Uruguayan trying to work his way into the squad.
And there are many players coming through that Arévalo should have already lost his place too. Lucas Torreira, for example, is making headlines in Italy for Sampdoria. The 21-year-old volante is one of the biggest revelations in the Serie A this season and has attracted interest from the likes of Sevilla and AS Roma.
Torreira is not the only one making waves, though, as Peñarol captain Nahitan Nández and Boca Juniors starlet Rodrigo Bentancur are knocking on the door as well. All three would be a much better fit than Arévalo in the central midfield position. For the future, and for now.
Another area that needs addressing is the left-wing. Cristian Rodríguez is occupying this position at the moment and has been doing it for some time. Rodríguez (31) is not only struggling with injuries but has lost the explosiveness that once made him such a dangerous player.
Gastón Pereiro and Giorgian De Arrascaeta are both better alternates but the latter has had to settle with some cameo appearances while the former has yet to receive an Uruguay call-up
Arévalo and Rodríguez represent a larger pool of players that Tabárez keeps calling on who are past their best. Jorge Fucile, Maxi Pereira, Álvaro González, Mathías Corujo and Christian Stuani have been great servants to La Celeste but should make way for a new wave of players.
A recap of Uruguay’s successful World Cup campaign in 2010 brings us to one conclusion; Uruguay got the right mix of routine – Diego Forlán and Diego Lugano – and young players like Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godín. It was the success formula to a tournament that ended in the semi-finals; Uruguay’s best classification in the past forty years.
I have no worries about Uruguay concerning qualification for the World Cup as their remaining fixture list is far less difficult than some of their rivals. Another campaign like the one in 2010 is also a possibility, not with the current squad, though.
Players like De Arrascaeta, Pereiro, Torreira and Bentancur need to be given the chance and bring something refreshing to a team that solely relies on the two world-class center forwards. Tabárez needs to drop the ‘old guard’, otherwise Uruguay can forget anything close to glory in Russia.