Uruguay's band of brothers closes in on the World Cup

Posted by Tim Vickery

Getty ImagesUruguay -- which defeated Jordan 5-0 in World Cup qualifying -- typically fields the same, small group of players, but that hasn't meant sticking with the same strategy.

When he took the field for the playoff against Jordan, goalkeeper Martin Silva became the 28th player Uruguay have used in their World Cup qualification campaign. All of the other South American teams used more.

Uruguay coach Oscar Washington Tabarez is fiercely loyal to his group of players, many of whom have been together since the 2007 Copa America. But sticking with the same players does not necessarily mean sticking with the same strategy. Uruguay can switch formations -- from a back three to a back four, for example -- and change approaches, sometimes with the same starting lineup.

The team have a range of tactical approaches open to them. One of the key tasks of Tabarez is to select the right game plan. The 5-0 scoreline in his side's favour showed that he got things spot-on in the first leg away to Jordan in World Cup playoffs.

Uruguay's initial lineup made their intention plain -- decide the contest in the first leg. Tabarez wanted away goals, and set up his side to get them. Egidio Arevalo Rios was the only defensive specialist in his four-man midfield. The other three -- Christian Stuani, Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Rodriguez -- all got on the score sheet.

The inclusion of Stuani was hugely significant, and was thoroughly justified by his role in the most important goals of the game, the first two. Stuani is one of the very few players to have forced his way into what otherwise has been something of a closed group. Originally a striker, he has been converted into a right-side midfielder in his time with Espanyol, and he curled in a wonderful cross from the flank to set up the opening goal. But the old goal scorer's instinct is still there; he came off the bench to score an important goal at home against Colombia in September, and now he latched on to Lodeiro's clever diagonal pass to side home the second against Jordan, and effectively decide the contest.

Next week's second leg will be more like a victory celebration in Montevideo's Centenario stadium. Come the serious stuff, though, Tabarez is unlikely to field such an adventurous team. He will survey the situation and come up with something more cautious.

Uruguay's coach loves to repeat a statistic from his side's surprise run to the semifinals of the previous World Cup. In every game, the opposition had more possession. But Uruguay had more shots. It makes sense. Tabarez is lucky enough to be able to call on a wonderful collection of strikers -- and if the star of Diego Forlan has waned since South Africa 2010, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are moving in the opposite direction. Much of the rest of the team is little more than workmanlike -- and now, after being together for so long, parts of the team are beginning to creak.

Uruguay had a dreadful time in the 2012-13 season; in a run of six games, they drew 2 and lost 4, conceding 15 goals in the process. Tabarez needed to have a rethink, and the verdict was that his team would go back to basics. Uruguay would accept their limitations, recognise that in many cases the opposition was better able to maneuver the ball around midfield. They would defend deep, protecting some of the aging limbs on the back line, and creating plenty of space to slip Luis Suarez on the counterattack.

It is the method that saved their qualification campaign; Uruguay pulled it out of the fire with away wins against Venezuela and Peru, direct rivals for the playoff spot, as they closed the campaign with four victories in the past five games -- and this latest win has all but ensured their place in Brazil.

It was entirely fitting that the fifth goal was scored by Cavani, with a glorious free kick into the far top corner. The Paris Saint-Germain striker had a highly effective game; the first goal came when his header from Stuani's cross was pushed out for Maxi Pereira's follow-up. He gave a clever dummy to help set up the second.

The third was the result of his run to the bye-line and pull back for Lodeiro. Rodriguez was free at the far post to volley home the fourth because Cavani's run drew the defence to the near post. And, as ever, he interpreted the position of striker as a box-to-box role, dropping back to help out the defence with the spirit of sacrifice that has led Tabarez to describe him as "the perfect son-in-law."

He deserved his moment of glory with the fifth goal, and his teammates will need to keep showing those same unselfish virtues if Uruguay are to make the short journey to the World Cup with real hopes of making an impression.


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