Defeated by Brazil, Uruguay Bow Out of Confederations Cup with Heads Held High
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Uruguay gave everything in their attempts to down Brazil and make the final of the Confederations Cup, but the Celeste fell just short against the hosts. A late goal in each half—from Fred before the break and Paulinho's header in the dying minutes—ensured that the Mineirao exploded with joy as Felipe Scolari's men progressed at the expense of their neighbours.
Looking back over the tournament, however, the side captained by Diego Lugano will be proud of their performance after a season to forget.
In their opening match, against Spain, it appeared Uruguay were fated to continue the rotten form that has seen their spot in the 2014 World Cup placed under serious jeopardy. The nation lost five qualifiers, drew two and won only one of their eight CONMEBOL clashes, a record that saw them fall from the top two places to fighting for a playoff position with Venezuela.
The world and European champions passed their first Confederations opponents off the pitch, and Luis Suarez's stunning free kick only served to flatter the Celeste as they limped to a 2-1 defeat.
Oscar Tabarez, however, is not regarded as one of the best coaches in South America for nothing.
The entrance of Alvaro Gonzalez and Diego Forlan helped raise Uruguay in the second half against the Furia Roja, and Tabarez was convinced that a more combative midfield combined with the mercurial talents of the blonde No. 10 were the keys to success.
Forlan was man of the match in the following clash against Nigeria, and an 8-0 destruction of Tahiti was enough to secure a place in the semifinals that by no means looked certain after the first match.
How different that semi could have been if Forlan did not miss that early penalty, thwarted by a fantastic save from Julio Cesar.
Brazil were lifted by that stroke of fortune and hit through Fred's mistimed rebound. And while Edinson Cavani pulled his side back into the game with his shot after the break, a rare moment of defensive inattention broke Celeste hearts when the excellent Paulinho headed into the net just four minutes from the final whistle.
Despite the defeat, Uruguay can take plenty of positives from Wednesday's match. Diego Lugano put in the kind of display that dragged his team by the scruff of their necks to a World Cup semifinal and Copa America winners medal at the start of the decade. Gonzalez and Egidio Arevalo Rios were impeccable in the middle, tackling mercilessly to break down Brazil's approach play, while Hulk was a shadow of his best thanks to the attentive marking of Martin Caceres out wide.
Forlan shrugged off that devastating miss and strived harder than most to atone for his error; Cavani alongside him put in a lung-busting 90 minutes, chasing down every lost ball and player in yellow and taking his goal with the class we have come to expect from the Napoli star.
The tournament is still ongoing for the Uruguayans, who will meet the loser of Spain's clash with Italy in Saturday's third-place playoff. Attention, however, must already turn back to the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Currently tied for fifth with Venezuela having played one game fewer, Uruguay have four crucial fixtures which will decide their fate for Brazil 2014, including home clashes against current leaders Argentina and second-placed Colombia. Nothing less than three victories would assure at least a playoff, while realistically the Celeste need to gun for a maximum 12 points if they hope to leapfrog Chile or Ecuador and gain an automatic qualification place.
For the first time in a year though, hopes are raised for Tabarez's fearless battlers.
The famous Garra Charrua (Uruguayan claw/fighting spirit) was not quite enough to overcome Neymar and Co., but they leave Belo Horizonte rightly proud of matching the hosts throughout the encounter.
Daniel is a football journalist based in Buenos Aires, who specialises in covering the South American game. You can follow him on twitter at @DanEdwardsGoal
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