Olympic Soccer: Looking for a Team? Uruguay an Intriguing Option for Neutrals
Three days before the men's soccer tournament begins at the 2012 Summer Olympics, the major roles have been filled, the basic plot points sketched and ready. Don't forget the details, though, or the guys in powder blue.
If the Olympic script was already written, it would go something like this.
Brazil, the most successful team in international soccer history with five World Cup titles, will play the role of favorite. With a world-class roster and a chance to win the country's first gold medal in soccer, its players will relish the gig.
Spain, the reigning World Cup and European champions at the senior level, will be the top contender, a new international powerhouse looking to extend its reach into the U-23 ranks.
Great Britain, the multinational team with the combined roster and motley uniforms, will play an equally multipurpose role as host, crowd favorite and plucky underdog.
It all works well enough. There's something for just about everybody. But for neutral fans looking for an intriguing and competitive team, another option is lurking with time and space just outside the box.
If you're a neutral looking for a new team to follow over the next two weeks, you could do a lot worse than Uruguay. Here's why.
Uruguay boasts a proud history in international soccer. Twice a World Cup champion, La Celeste also took home Olympic gold in 1924 and 1928.
Amazingly, Uruguay hasn't competed in the Olympic tournament since then. In the meantime, though, it won Copa America titles (the South American continental championship) in 1983, 1987, 1995 and most recently in 2011.
Two years ago at the World Cup, Oscar Tabarez's team advanced to the semifinals before bowing out against the Netherlands. It was La Celeste's best World Cup showing since 1970, and it served as a source of optimism for the future.
That 2010 team relied on the attacking flair of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez and defensive stalwarts like Diego Godin, Maxi Pereira and Martin Caceres. Some of those guys will be back in 2014, but at least a few will be replaced by fresh faces from this summer's Olympic squad.
That makes the Olympics a bridge-building tournament for Uruguay. As BBC Sport's Tim Vickery writes:
Uruguay have made a good start to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, standing a point behind leaders Chile with a game in hand. But it is an ageing side and some of its components are starting to creak. Options need to present themselves over the next two years.
So far, though, only two Olympic-age (under-23) players have featured in the five matches of the World Cup qualification campaign.
The Olympics, then, have a key role to play as Uruguay seek to prepare a transition to a new generation.
The transition might be smoother than Vickery implies. Forlan will be 35 at the next World Cup, but the talent is in place to replace him.
Edinson Cavani, a 25-year-old attacker, was an up-and-coming member of Uruguay's 2010 World Cup squad. Two years later, he's a world-famous international with a €100 million price tag (ESPNSoccernet).
Elsewhere, the squad is peppered with names that dedicated European fans will recognize, from Bologna playmaker Gaston Ramirez to Ajax midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates.
Placed in Group A at the Olympics, Uruguay should have a good chance to advance to the knockout stage. After matches against the United Arab Emirates and Senegal, La Celeste will face a key showdown with the host nation.
Advance from the group, and anything is possible in the knockout stages—as Uruguay and Ghana showed two summers ago in South Africa.
The future represents a potential return to glory for Uruguay, but with a talented squad already assembled for the Olympics, the glory might be back as soon as this summer, long before anyone expected.
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