Uruguay’s World Cup preparations begin in earnest when they host Northern Ireland at the Estadio Centenario on Friday. Injury has ruled Luis Suarez out of contention, but coach Oscar Washington Tabarez’s starting lineup will otherwise be close to his preferred XI.
There were no major surprises in Tabarez’s 25-man preliminary World Cup squad. Friday’s match will assist him in deciding which two players to discard ahead of the June 2 deadline for the submission of his final selection.
Uruguay’s goalkeeping options are already set, with Fernando Muslera the clear number one. The Galatasaray goalkeeper started in every one of his country’s World Cup qualifiers—although he did miss the intercontinental playoff against Jordan through injury—and in all four of their matches at last year’s Confederations Cup.
Martin Silva and Rodrigo Munoz will provide able backup.
Tabarez’s first-choice back four would usually comprise of Maxi Pereira, Diego Lugano, Diego Godin and Martin Caceres. However, Godin joined the training camp late following Atletico Madrid’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid and is unlikely to start on Friday.
Sebastian Coates filled in for Godin during training on Tuesday and Wednesday, as per Tenfield (in Spanish). The Liverpool-owned defender has only just returned to fitness following an extended spell on the sidelines after knee surgery and will see Friday’s match as an opportunity to prove his fitness to Tabarez.
"Every day I feel better than the day before,” he told El Observador (in Spanish) on Tuesday. “Luckily I have had no problems with my knee. It is responding well."
In midfield, Egidio Arevalo Rios, Walter Gargano, Gaston Ramirez and Cristian Rodriguez have been the preferred foursome in training. They do, however, face strong competition from Alvaro Gonzalez and Nicolas Lodeiro, both of whom will hope to force their way into the starting lineup prior to Uruguay’s World Cup opener against Costa Rica on June 14.
Diego Perez and Sebastian Eguren will also be hoping for a chance to stake their respective claims. One or the other is likely to be dropped from the final squad.
Up front, in the absence of Suarez, Diego Forlan will line up alongside Edinson Cavani. Forlan’s influence has waned over the last couple of years, but he still remains a player whose quality is capable of tipping the balance in Uruguay’s favour. Cavani, released in recent times from the shackles of the right-sided role he has so often fulfilled for the national team, has scored six times in his last eight internationals, as per Soccerway.
Of the alternatives, Abel Hernandez has looked sharp in training according to El Observador (in Spanish). Christian Stuani, who scored a vital goal against Colombia at the back end of the qualification process, will also hope to get a second half runout.
As for Suarez, he has texted a number of his Liverpool and England teammates to let them know that he expects to be fit and ready for the World Cup, according to The Telegraph.
Uruguay’s team doctor, Alberto Pan, also seems cautiously optimistic that Suarez will recover sufficiently from keyhole knee surgery to take part:
We can happily say that Luis’s participation in the World Cup is not ruled out. It is very risky to give exact dates. We cannot have absolute certainty or clear numbers, but the postoperative period has been very good. Today Suarez is painless and is working on fitness.
Suarez will, of course, be limited to a watching brief on Friday.
Predicted Uruguay XI: Fernando Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Diego Lugano, Sebastian Coates, Martin Caceres; Egidio Arevalo Rios, Walter Gargano; Gaston Ramirez, Cristian Rodriguez; Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan.