A drama-free qualifying campaign, and a spearhead of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez sees Uruguay looking for real run at the World Cup title in Russia
For the third time in a row Uruguay have qualified for the World Cup and they have done so in historic fashion. A 4-2 win over Bolivia on Tuesday night meant that Uruguay finished second in the table – their highest ever finish since the introduction of the round-robin qualification format in 1996.
Óscar Tabárez’ side hasn’t done it in easy circumstances, either. In the early stages of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Uruguay missed key players like Diego Godín, Edinson Cavani and especially Luis Suárez – who was given an extraordinary lengthy ban for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup. It didn’t stop Uruguay from getting off to a fine start, however, and after four match days Uruguay had picked up nine out of a possible twelve points.
Then Suárez came back into the mix and immediately scored on his return away against Brazil. Uruguay picked up a valuable point and in the same international break they beat Peru at home thanks to a Cavani goal, meaning the side was on the right course to qualify for Russia as we were approaching the halfway point of the qualifiers.
Uruguay continued to collect points over the next five games, winning three times, drawing away against Colombia and losing in Argentina. But then came Uruguay’s familiar collapse. Three consecutive losses against Chile, Brazil and Peru put Uruguay back into uncertainty while at some point Uruguay looked a safe bet for Russia. Defensively, La Celeste looked surprisingly weak and conceded nine goals in three games.
Next up was a big game against Argentina at the Estadio Centenario. Both teams were seemingly more afraid to lose than eager to win and settled for a point as the match ended 0-0. Uruguay recovered their defensive solidity, though. A few days later, Uruguay faced Paraguay in Asunción in what proved to be a decider for the four-time world champions. With Federico Valverde scoring the winning goal on his debut, Uruguay booked a vital victory on the road to Russia.
Uruguay consolidated their position in the table for the final two World Cup qualifiers and have made sure that they will be on the plane to Russia in the upcoming summer.
The Uruguay squad and staff celebrating qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) October 11, 2017
And they will arrive at the World Cup with well-grounded ambitions because while the Uruguay squad at the beginning of the qualifiers adapted a very defensive approach by winning the ball in dangerous areas to then punish the opponent, the current team is more versatile in terms of tactics.
In the last few games, several youngsters have been given the chance and it has improved Uruguay massively in possession. A midfield of Fede Valverde, Matías Vecino, Rodrigo Bentancur and Giorgian De Arrascaeta is an extremely balanced midfield, that provides quality on the ball and a work ethic.
In recent years, Uruguay have become accustomed to putting all their eggs in one basket. That basket was named Luis Suárez who has done extremely well in dealing with that pressure, becoming Uruguay’s all-time top scorer with 49 goals suggests so.
Despite all of that, the playing style Uruguay are currently developing is much more beneficial. A reliable back line, a midfield with ball retention, creativity and tactical knowledge and two of the best strikers in world football up front, are ingredients for a successful World Cup campaign.
Óscar Tabárez is finding the right mix of youth and experience, just like in South Africa 2010. The same scenario unfolding depends on many factors. One thing is for sure, Uruguay have evolved in a positive way over the past few months and a continuation of that could give the whole of Uruguay a summer full of joy.