The FIFA Confederations Cup provides an opportunity for fans to take an early look at what they might see in the forthcoming World Cup held in Brazil next year, but one of this year's Confederations Cup competitors might not even feature in 2014.
Uruguay are one of the most intriguing international sides around at present; full of history and once more brought to life with their thrilling Copa America win in 2011, but currently struggling to even qualify for the showpiece FIFA event to be held in 12 month's time.
How Uruguay Arrived at the Confederations Cup
It had been 16 years since Uruguay had won the Copa America when the tournament started in the summer of 2011, but under manager Oscar Tabarez, they upset the odds to claim a record 15th title.
Uruguay finished second in their group, winning one and drawing two of their three matches before defeating hosts Argentina on penalties in the quarterfinal knockout match. Surprise semifinalists Peru were no match for Uruguay in the semis, as they won 2-0, and a great performance in the final itself saw Uruguay triumph 3-0 against Paraguay.
Luis Suarez scored four goals throughout the tournament to finish as the second-highest scorer overall, while Diego Forlan, Alvaro Pereira (both two) and Diego Perez (one) also hit the back of the net.
With the Confederations Cup being made up of the six FIFA zones's individual champions, the World Cup hosts and the World Cup holders, Uruguay qualified as the representatives of CONMEBOL.
Recent Form and Reasons for Concern
Just two short years after that success, why are Uruguay not among the favourites for victory again in Brazil?
In terms of personnel, the Uruguay squad has barely changed at all. Just two names differ on the squad lists from 2011 to the present day one; legendary striker Sebastian Abreu has finally been replaced, with Gaston Ramirez now a part of the squad, and defender Mauricio Victorino is replaced by Peñarol's Matias Aguirregaray.
All in all, it's very much a case of the squad simply getting two years older, and in some key cases, that means less mobility and longevity.
Eight of the squad are now over 30 years of age, including the once-indispensible Diego Forlan, now 34, and bit-part defender Andres Scotti who is 37. That Uruguay have not been able to replace the likes of these players with new, quality and reliable talent perhaps indicates that the resurgence of Uruguayan football was a brilliant, but brief one.
Nicolas Lodeiro was heralded as the next greatest playmaker, but it never really happened for him at Ajax. He's now back in Brazil with Botafogo, and at 24 years of age has only 16 caps and a single international goal. Likewise, Abel Hernandez was expected to become a world-beater up front, but injuries and lack of consistent goalscoring form have hindered his progress, and he has amassed just nine caps so far.
Of course, in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez Uruguay have two of the very best strikers in world football, so things aren't all that bleak.
The problem has been getting them regular, quality service in the final third, and Tabaraz's preferred formation of using a narrow and industrious midfield simply hasn't provided enough ammunition for the duo to keep winning games.
In the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying zone, the top four teams progress directly to the finals in Brazil. Fifth place is good enough only for a two-legged playoff.
Uruguay, with seven matches left to play, sit in the sixth spot.
Scoring just 17 goals in their 11 matches has been their downfall—Suarez has scored eight of them—as they have won only three times so far, and it won't get any easier with successive away matches against Venezuela and Peru to come next. Those two sides are directly above and below Uruguay in seeding, so avoiding defeat at the very least is imperative.
Their last two qualifying matches yielded a 1-1 draw with Paraguay and a 2-0 defeat to Chile, not great form to head into the Confederations Cup in, but even worse, of course, for their World Cup prospects.
A low-key friendly against France on Wednesday allowed Uruguay to bounce back somewhat, recording a 1-0 win thanks to yet another Suarez strike. The Liverpool man is now just one goal away from equaling Forlan's all-time goalscoring record, and his ability and consistency will be the biggest plus point for the nation going forward.
What Can we Expect from Uruguay This Summer?
So how are they going to fare this summer?
Uruguay are in Group B along with Spain (World Cup winners), Nigeria (AFCON winners) and Tahiti (OFC winners). With the top two going through to the semifinals, the South Americans must feel they have a fair chance of reaching the knockout stages.
Tahiti should present no real opposition, but they are Uruguay's final match and could easily be out of the running by then.
First and foremost is Spain—world champions and double European champions, aiming to hold all three titles at the same time with victory at the Confederations Cup. Few teams get the better of them, but Uruguay's tight-regimented defence and deep line in midfield might be a big help in this instance.
The game against Nigeria will likely be key to deciding which of those two progress along with Spain.
Uruguay's poor recent form and inability to self-regenerate over the past year or so means they cannot be considered favourites to win the tournament, and if they do reach the semis, then it is probable that any of the Group A qualifiers will have the measure of them.
However, this tournament has to be about re-finding their best competitive form to take back into the World Cup qualifiers after the summer, and picking up a couple of wins in the Group Stage of the Confederations Cup would be the perfect way to get back on track.
Team and player data from TransferMarkt.co.uk
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