Why Uruguay Are in Danger of Missing World Cup 2014
After 11 matches of South American World Cup qualifying, 2010 semifinalists Uruguay remain in real danger of missing out on a chance to repeat their feats at Brazil 2014.
Despite the host nation's automatic qualification granting South America an extra place at the tournament, Uruguay lie in just sixth place in the round robin standings. Worse still for Oscar Tabarez's side is that their most fearsome challenges are still to come.
It was not supposed to be this way.
Following a fine showing in South Africa and then further success in winning the 2011 Copa America, Tabarez and his side were being widely hailed for their achievements.
They were supposed to be the side to represent South American might in 2014, with both Brazil and Argentina floundering.
However, despite a bright start to the qualifying campaign with fine wins over both Bolivia and Chile in Montevideo, things have since begun to fall apart for La Celeste. Despite their notable attacking talents and continuity of selection, Uruguay have desperately struggled.
In their past six qualification fixtures, Uruguay have managed just three goals. It is a worrying statistic for a team that can boast the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan among their ranks.
It is even more startling when contrasted with the 14 goals scored in the side's opening five fixtures. Indeed, of the attacking talent mentioned, only Suarez (eight goals) has scored more than twice for his country in the 11 fixtures to date.
For players of Cavani and Forlan's quality, that is a worrying return.
So, just what is going wrong for Uruguay? Have Tabarez's tactics and team selections gone stale? There could well be some reasoning in that argument, after all, the squad has changed little in the four-year cycle since 2010.
There is also a very real argument that the talents available, in particular the free-scoring Cavani, are not being utilised effectively in front of what is a hard-working but limited central midfield.
Whatever the reasoning, it is clear that teams have been able to stifle Uruguay over the past 12 months and, for the moment, no answers have been found to the side's travails.
Uruguay have faced two major problems in qualification. They have dropped points at home while failing to win a single match outside of Montevideo. Their home record of three wins and three draws should not be an issue, but it becomes problematic if you are drawing a blank away from home.
With difficult away trips to Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru remaining, it is a situation they must look to change. All three sides boast excellent home records, with Ecuador in particular yet to drop a point in Quito.
When considering that it is only the impressive forces of Argentina and Colombia yet to come to Montevideo, the problem for Uruguay becomes clear. They will now be forced to win games that they would usually be content to emerge from with a point in the bag.
Will Uruguay still qualify for Brazil 2014?
South American football is clearly improving across the board and Uruguay, who awoke from their own slumber pre-2010 World Cup, have been caught by their rivals.
While Ecuador have always been strong at home, they, as well as Colombia, Venezuela and Peru in particular, are a much improved outfit over the past four years.
Chile remain strong also, while Argentina are a reinvigorated force under Alejandro Sabella. Uruguay, meanwhile, have stood still.
Winning the 2011 Copa America was a fantastic achievement for a very good side, but there can be little doubt that their task was aided by the terrible showings of traditional powerhouses Brazil and Argentina.
Tabarez and his side were rightfully praised for their success on that occasion, but it is now time for that set of players to up their game once more. Otherwise, for the likes of veterans Forlan, Diego Lugano and Diego Perez, there could be a terribly anticlimactic end to some brilliant international careers.
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