Need a win against Italy to progress
24 June ~ Doom and gloom prevailed in Uruguay on the back of their 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica in their opening match of the World Cup. The niggling doubts that had been rattling around in the back of people's minds going into the tournament were suddenly manifested. Yes, Diego Lugano is too slow; no, we don't have any creativity in midfield; yes, Diego Forlán would be better as a substitute at this stage of his career. There was a feeling that the time of this successful generation, semi-finalists at the last World Cup and winners of the 2011 Copa América, was coming to an end.
Yet it was not the most surprising result for those who follow the team closely. Home draws against Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela in qualifying provided prior evidence of their struggles against sides who are content to sit back and strike on the break. They are much more comfortable playing on the counter-attack themselves, as shown by their improved, Luis Suárez-inspired performance against England. Uruguay are also a side who have a reputation for doing things the hard way. They have now gone six World Cups without winning their opening match.
In addition, under Óscar Washington Tabárez they have often evolved as tournaments progress. They began the 2010 World Cup in a 3-4-1-2 formation, which was quickly abandoned in favour of a 4-3-3 for their second match and onwards to the last four. They started the 2011 Copa América in that same formation, but switched to a 4-4-2 after drawing their opening two matches and went on to lift the trophy. After defeat to Costa Rica, Tabárez employed a narrower midfield against England, with Nicolás Lodeiro breaking forward in support of the strikers. That alignment is likely to remain against Italy this afternoon.
Lugano posted an open letter on his Facebook page on the build-up to the decisive match, imploring his countrymen to get behind the team. "We need you to support us through every mistake," he wrote. "We want you to be excited, to weep with joy at every goal, every contested ball... we know that even our critics would give everything to be running and helping."
At time of writing, nearly 78 per cent of respondents to a poll on the website of newspaper El Observador think that Uruguay will defeat Italy and progress to the last 16. The return of Suárez and a slight formational shift have clearly not solved all of the team's problems, but there are few teams in the tournament without issues of one kind or another. If they can defeat Italy this afternoon, this Uruguay generation may yet enjoy a glorious swan song. Nick Dorrington