Uruguay will always hold a special place in World Cup history. They hosted and won the very first tournament in 1930 and hold more titles than Spain and England, and as many as France and Argentina, despite a population today under 3.5 million people.
This century alone, they have produced some of the world’s best goalscorers in Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. Suarez and Cavani are still going even now, both well into their thirties, as is veteran center-back Diego Godin and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera – all survivors from 2010 when La Celeste reached the semi-finals, albeit in controversial circumstances, and finished fourth.
But this Uruguay generation has a good blend of youth and experience, with plenty of those in the squad – like Manchester United talent Facundo Pellistri – in their early to mid-twenties.
This is also the first time since 2002 that Uruguay have been to a World Cup without legendary former manager Oscar Tabarez, who was finally let go last year because of poor results during qualifying. Former Inter Miami coach Diego Alonso is now the man in charge.
Group H has the potential to throw up one of the more tasty clashes of the first round when Uruguay meets Ghana for the first time since 2010. That previous encounter remains one of the World Cup’s most infamous games, with Luis Suarez using his hands to block a certain Ghana winner at the very end of extra-time, Asamoah Gyan missing the subsequent penalty and then Uruguay prevailing in a shootout to deny Ghana a place in history as Africa’s first ever semi-finalists.
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Sebastian Sosa (Independiente), Sergio Rochet (Nacional)
Defenders: Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Diego Godin (Velez Sarsfield), Ronald Araujo (Barcelona), Guillermo Varela (Flamengo), Mathias Olivera (Napoli), Matias Vina (Roma), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP), Martin Caceres (LA Galaxy ), Jose Luis Rodriguez (National)
Midfielders: Matias Vecino (Lazio), Rodrigo Bentancur (Tottenham), Nicolas de la Cruz (River Plate), Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Flamengo), Lucas Torreira (Galatasaray), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Manuel Ugarte (Sporting CP)
Forwards: Facundo Pellistri (Man Utd), Luis Suarez (Nacional), Darwin Nunez (Liverpool), Maxi Gomez (Trabzonspor), Facundo Torres (Orlando City), Edinson Cavani (Valencia), Agustin Canobbio (Athletico Paranaense)
Uruguay haven’t been forced to omit anyone major from the squad because of injury, although Edinson Cavani missed Valencia’s last two games before the World Cup break began. Picking Ronald Araujo might also be a gamble as the Barcelona defender has been out since undergoing thigh muscle surgery in September that looked like it would rule him out of contention here.
36-year-old Cristhian Stuani has missed out, despite a decent return for Girona in La Liga this season.
He may be nearly 36, past his peak and preparing for the fourth and final World Cup of his career, but Luis Suarez is one of the greatest players of his generation and no one dare underestimate the former Liverpool, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid star.
Suarez has been playing his club football back home in Uruguay with first professional club Nacional since July and has scored eight times in 14 games for them.
As Suarez and Edinson Cavani prepare to bow out after Qatar, the next Uruguay’s next star striker is ready to step up. This is a first World Cup for £85m Darwin Nunez, who has still posted impressive numbers for Liverpool despite a much publicized tough start.
The 23-year-old, and that’s still all he is, is likely to start and at least marked his last Uruguay appearance with a first international goal in nearly two years in victory over Canada.
Federico Valverde has been one of Real Madrid’s best and most important players over the last 18 months and that is no mean feat in a team that includes 2021 Ballon d’Or Karim Benzema, as well as Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Thibaut Courtois.
Having excelled as a winger at club level in recent times, he has often played in midfield for Uruguay too. He has the versatility and skill to do either just as well.
Once the apprentice and now the master, it is telling that Atletico Madrid have lost four times in La Liga when Jose Gimenez has not started this season and never when he has. With former clubmate Diego Godin still going strong at 36, it promises to make Uruguay difficult to break down.
The centre-back is similarly crucial for Uruguay, although a back injury in September that he has since recovered from means he hasn’t actually played international football since June.
Two solid banks of four both give Uruguay the tactical solidity they are known for, while at the same time being able to accommodate two strikers. But they have the versatility to switch it up to either 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 depending on the game. That could come in handy against three very different group stage opponents.
Uruguay predicted XI (4-4-2): Muslera; Varela, Godin, Gimenez, Olivera; Valverde, Vecino, Bentancur, De Arrescaeta; Nunez, Suarez
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A shock defeat against Iran aside, Uruguay have been in decent form in 2022. Defensive solidity is their big strength and they have only conceded twice in nine games so far this calendar year.
Following Oscar Tabarez’s dismissal a year ago, they finished the qualifying strongly by putting together four consecutive wins over Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru and Chile to book a place in Qatar that had previously looked in doubt.
They have lacked much in the way of various tests, however. The Iran game played in Austria in September is oddly the only time since before the Covid-19 pandemic that Uruguay have played either outside of the Americas or against a non-South/North/Central American opponent.
Uruguay’s last five results (all competitions)
Canada 0-2 Uruguay
Iran 1-0 Uruguay
Uruguay 5-0 Panama
USA 0-0 Uruguay
Mexico 0-3 Uruguay
Group H is not the easiest because both South Korea and Ghana have shown at previous World Cups that they are capable of rocking the boat. Ghana could even carry extra motivation as they try to enact revenge for 2010. But Uruguay, with all the talent and experience they have, will be expected to progress to the knockouts and maybe even top the standings ahead of Portugal.
That could set up a likely last 16 encounter with Switzerland, which again is a favorable game for a Uruguay side this good and well drilled. Going much further when the competition gets far stronger might be a stretch. That being said, if you’re looking for a dark horse, Uruguay could be it.