The moment Liverpool forward Luis Suarez scored the first goal for his country Uruguay in the 11th minute of the final game of Copa America 2011 against Paraguay, one knew that the country had put its first step forward to prove all the specualtions of the team winning their 15th Copa America title right.
2 more goals by the experienced Diego Forlan after 30 minutes ensured that Paraguay had no chance to come back and give Uruguay a tough competition in the match. Uruguay with this title, became the country with the maximum number of Copa America titles – leaving behind their similar position held previously along with Argentina, having 14 titles each.
But one wonders whether Uruguay can still be called the best South American footballing nation in the world. Not because they won the final against a much weaker side, but because of their inconsistencies as a footballing nation for decades now. Uruguay was once a team which could defeat South American giants Argentina with a lot of ease. They rose to become a champion footballing nation in the erstwhile years of football. In fact, Uruguay was the first nation to host the FIFA World Cup in 1930 and also win it after defeating Argentina 4-2 in the final match.
Uruguay’s second World Cup glory came after two decades, when they defeated Brazil 2-1 in the final of the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Since then, Uruguay have achieved nothing much to remember in the World Cup. In the years of 1954 and 1970, they have finished fourth.
Once known to be a nation whose style of football depended a lot upon short passes and skilfull attacking tactics, faced a decline in the seventies – the results have been evident – they have qualified only on five occasions in the last nine World Cups.
Uruguyan football soon felt the urgency to do something which could turn the wheels of fortune around in their favour and bring back the nation’s rise to the position where they could taste the same taste of glory as the nation did in the early years. In the pretext of doing the same, the team saw a number of coaches being appointed in a matter of just few years, including the appointment of six coaches in between the years of 2000 and 2006.
The frequency of new coaches in search of a perfect one finally ended in the year 2006, when the responsibility was handed over to Oscar Tabarez. Since then, the former Uruguyan defender ensured a change in the way the team has been performing for years.
An year after Tabarez’s appointment, Uruguay showed a marked improvement in their game when they finished fourth in the 2007 Copa America.
With the combination of the most experienced defender of the side Diego Lugano as captain, and coach Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay hinted the return of their former years in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The national team reached the semi-finals for the first time in 40 years, only conceding five goals in six matches.
Even though they finished fourth in the tournament, their performance under the captaincy of Lugano was recognised well when he was selected the best captain of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Uruguayan football’s resurgence finally left a mark when the team ended up winning the 15th Copa America title recently. While the Luganos and Forlans started off their run in the tournament a bit slow and low, they started becoming better and better with every match they played. They won only 1 out of 3 games in the group stage, though they lost none; in the quarter-finals they won their big one against their arch-rivals Argentina in penalties, and finally two big wins in the semi-final and the final respectively to give them the title.
Right from the kick-off of their first match of the tournament, they started facing strong resistance against their opponents. In their first match, Peru made a strong statement at the start by throwing a long ball into the Uruguyan box. Uruguay was under pressure, and was quite evident from Diego Forlan’s unsuccessful free kick in the next minute. After some initial confusion on the field from both the ends and a few dangerous attempts created by the likes of Forlan and Suarez, Uruguay succumbed to pressure as Paolo Guerrero scored for Peru at the the 23rd minute, thanks to the lack of cover given by the Uruguayan defenders.
Uruguay was furthermore drawn into pressure as the Peruvians kept on dominating the game with better tactics on the field against their opponents. Near-goal chances by the veterans Forlan and Lugano could not make an impact until the 45th minute, when Luis Suarez brought back his team into the game with a neat finish to the goal, helped by a pass given by Lodiero.
Uruguay showed more energy, enthusiasm and confidence in the second half of the match. Their passes became more precise with every passing minute, followed on by some unsuccessful goal attempts until the last minute stint by Peruvian Guerrero who missed the last chance to score the winning goal for Peru after heading it wide.
After the unexpected performance put up by Uruguay in their first match, they put up a better show in their second group match against table-toppers Chile. Uruguay showed a lot of aggression right form the start, as the first half of this match was dominated by them with more chances, including the one in which Forlan knocked a long ball down for Edison Cavani at the top of the box. But neither team find a breakthrough in the first half, in spite of Chile’s close call just befor ethe interval.
The deadlock was broken at the 54th minute of the match, thanks to Luis Suarez, who showed sheer class as he controlled the ball well enough in the crowded box, to beat his marker and send in a low cross to Pereira right in front of the goal at the 54th minute – thus the first goal scored by Uruguay to take advantage in the match. But the score was levelled after 10 minutes later when Sanchez scored from the middle of the box, helped by a pass from Jean Beassejour. The match ended in a draw, thanks to the Uruguayan goalkeeper Muslera who pulled off two important saves in the final stages of the match.
Next up, was Uruguay’s final game of the group stage against Mexico. The teams faced tense situations in the initial stages of the match, as more than a few attacking moves faced resistance due to the untimely slips on the rain-soaked pitch. But this was ended soon – after Luis Suarez was fouled, Diego Forlan’s free kick penetrated into the Mexican box. Mexican goalkeeper Luis Michel saw it late, and could only palm the ball into the path of Pereira, who made no mistake to put the ball into the goal from so close.
Uruguay showed nothing less than dominance against the Mexicans after that. An excellent save by Fernando Muslera to avoid the only real chance created by Santos for the Mexicans, and a number of chances created by the Uruguayan forwards throughout the rest of the match kept the Mexicans under pressure till the end of the match. Though Mexico almost equalised the scoreline with 10 minutes remaining in the match, but the Mexican celebrations were halted by the linesman’s flag, signalling that Marquez Lugo was fractionally off-side.
Uruguay faced arch-rivals Argentina in the qaurter-final. Even though Diego Perez scored early on for Uruguay in this nerve-wracking encounter, his goal was cancelled out by Higuain’s goal in the 18th minute. But since then, neither side could break the deadlock in spite of quite a number of chances from both ends. After an eventful first half, both the teams slowed their pace in the second half – but no tactics from either team could break the deadlock even till the end of the additional half-hour after the final whistle of the game.
The game eventually went on to the penalty shoot-outs, flaring up the known rivalry between the nations. Everything went fine for the teams in the shoot-outs except the shocking miss by Carlos Tevez which ensured Uruguay the historic 5-4 victory over Argentina and thus qualify for the Copa America semi-finals.
After a thrilling win against their all-time rivals Argentina, Uruguay were full of confidence to take on any opposition in the upcoming games. Playing the Peruvians in the semi-final was not a big deal for Tabarez’s boys. But Peru proved to be a stronger opposition in the initial stages of the match – they never allowed Uruguay to score a single goal in the first half.
But Uruguay, as expected, turned things around in their favour when Luis Suarez score two quick goals in the 53rd and 58th minute. With these two goals, Uruguay ensured their dominance in the game and the pressure being put on Peru. Uruguay went on to win the match and qualified to the final of the competition for the first time since 1999.
So, with a comfortable victory in the semi-final, Uruguay proved themselves to be strong favourites to win the title this year – especially with a comparatively easy opposition like Paraguay to face in the final. Uruguay proved it right with a cake-walk win over the Paraguayans in the final. They dominated the whole match with Luis Suarez scoring in the first half, followed by a double-strike by Diego Forlan, who finally found luck and precision with sending the ball inside the goal-line after a lot of hard-luck throughout the tournament.
Uruguay created history that day with a 3-0 victory over Paraguay – they won the Copa America title for the 15th time, more than any other South American country, including Argentina. While Suarez, Pereira starred for their nation in delivering the all-important goals, captain Lugano showcased a combination of experience, skills and excellent leadership qualities. While goalkeeper Frenando Muslera acted as the unsung hero with his brilliant saves throughout the tournament, Diego Forlan kept on showing his class with the all-important passes which allowed the ball to be sent inside the goal-line by strikers, and not to forget, his two goals in the final match, which took away the game from the Praguayans.
Besides these on-field heroes, one must not forget all the efforts put in by coach Oscar Tabarez off the field. He has ensured nothing short of improvement in the Uruguyan side since his appointment in 2006.
Speculations are rife that Uruguay have risen to become a side which can act as a strong opposition to all other footballing nations in the years to come, and could even go ahead to make a strong mark in the next World Cup. And with the team shooting up to the 5th position in FIFA rankings, expectations are growing bigger by the day.
But one also feels that the team needs improvement in terms of consistencies in winning games, and of course converting the half-chances into match-winning goals. Well what Uruguay can really do in the coming years is still to be seen, but their fans all over the country will look forward to the days when the team will bring back the wonder years they were once a part of.