Uruguay are normally given a poisoned chalice at the World Cup, but the real troubles could begin once a comfortable group stage is over
On Friday 1 December, the draw of the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia took place. Aside from all the forgettable entertainment, a show with a duration of sixty minutes revealed the destiny of the 32 countries that will part take in football’s biggest showpiece next summer.
Uruguay have become accustomed to being placed in the ‘Group of Death’ in recent years but this time around, the four-time world champions have had a relatively favorable draw. Facing hosts Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in group A is by no means a walk in the park. Still, it’s a draw Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez and his team will be satisfied with.
Saudi Arabia ?? pic.twitter.com/wbJkQmD1SI
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) December 1, 2017
As hosts, Russia automatically qualified for the upcoming World Cup, meaning they have played few competitive matches in the last two years. The only indication of what the side is capable of was given at the 2017 Confederations Cup, for which they also automatically qualified as hosts. Russia didn’t leave its mark on the tournament and crashed out in the group stages.
Another nation Uruguay will face in the first stage is Egypt. The Egyptians have won the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times and with a star player like Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, The Pharaohs will be a difficult opponent to beat. It was that same Salah who secured Egypt’s place in the 2018 World Cup after an absence of 18 years.
The lowest ranked nation in Uruguay’s group are Asian rivals Saudi Arabia. The country, managed by former Chile manager Juan Pizzi, won’t be in Russia to just make up the numbers, however. Saudi Arabia directly qualified for the World Cup and possess the most prolific striker in Asian World Cup qualifying with Mohammad Al-Sahlawi leading their frontline. Al-Sahlawi scored 16 times on the road to Russia.
La Celeste is more than capable of grabbing the top spot in group A in which case they will face the second-placed team from group B. In that group, European heavyweights Portugal and Spain will battle it out with Iran and Morocco. It’s highly likely that, if Uruguay progress, they will face one of Spain and Portugal.
Having said that, Uruguay should focus on their group games first before overthinking possible knock-out scenarios. The nation will kick-off their 2018 World Cup campaign with a game vs. Egypt on June 15 in Yekaterinburg. The prospect of seeing Luis Suárez face Mohamed Salah will get the red half of Merseyside excited.
Five days later, June 20 to be precise, Uruguay face Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don in the second round of group games, which has proven to be a ‘make or break’ moment for Uruguay at recent World Cups. The final group game will be against hosts Russia on June 25 in Volgograd.
In the build-up to the tournament, Uruguay will feel the group is there for the taking but will also realize that the possibility of facing Portugal or Spain, later on, won’t be easy. It’s a cliché but to win a World Cup, you have to be able to beat anyone and it’s true. You can have an easy run to the semi-final and face Germany or Brazil then. Facing a big opponent early on will be a test and when you pass it, it will give you confidence and momentum which is key for a country not boasting the talent pool of a France or a Germany.
National legend Diego Forlán summed up Uruguay’s status ahead of the draw, saying “no one says Uruguay is a candidate [for the World Cup] but no one wants to face them”. He hit the nail on the head with that statement. Uruguay is a team that is feared by many opponents and thrives in the underdog role. They showed it in 2010, when they reached the semi-finals, and are capable of doing it again.