6 July ~ Today's World Cup action features a nation with a far smaller population than many others who entered this competition. They might well have thought, after previous success relative to their talent pool decades ago, that they'd never get another shot at reaching the World Cup final. Now though, only 90 minutes – or 120 minutes, or that plus a penalty shoot-out – stand between them and a demographically improbable appearance in the final. But enough about the Netherlands; haven't Uruguay done well?
They'll be without Luis Suárez, of course, after his controversial actions in the dying moments of their quarter-final with Ghana. Outrage in the Anglophone world over Suárez's handball has rather obscured the fact that, had the shot gone in, Ghana would have reached the semi-final controversially themselves – two Ghanaians were offside in the build-up, and the free-kick from which the whole thing started was itself debatable. All the same, the situation has put Uruguay back in familiar territory. Even when they were good – the best, in fact – they were often pantomime villains.
As such perhaps the real surprise from the outsider's perspective isn't that people have got het up with them, but rather that they haven't made their way to the semi-final by kicking opponents before the ball. Their gameplan may not be complicated, but its simplicity – defend with organisation and in numbers, and allow Diego Forlán to roam freely up front – hasn't done them any harm. And Uruguayans, although they're already delighted whatever happens now, will be reminded of past glories and could be forgiven for wondering whether they're about to witness another amazing triumph, 60 years after Alcides Ghiggia silenced Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã in the decisive match of the 1950 tournament.
Monday's news that centre-back Diego Lugano has been training well will give manager Óscar Washington Tabárez (named after the American president) and the country a boost, though reports on the website of the country's main newspaper El País didn't agree on Monday night as to whether or not the captain was likely to play. As it is, they'll definitely be without young playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro (injured) to bring off the bench, and their best full-back in Jorge Fucile (suspended). All the same, they'll be playing without any pressure.
In the WSC World Cup preview I described Uruguay's chant, "Uruguay, we want to see you crowned champions", as "perhaps the most optimistic chant in the tournament". Given the strength of the other three teams left in, it still might be – but not many nations have a footballing history to match the Republic To The East Of The [River] Uruguay, as its full name translates in English. And if they do go one amazing step further and reach the final, I'll be available for hire by the highest bidder to write disparaging remarks about the nation of your choice in another preview in four years' time... Sam Kelly