World Cup Beckons For Forgotten Power Uruguay

John Tilghman Correspondent INovember 18, 2009

A famous Uruguayan saying goes: "Other countries have their history and Uruguay has its football."

When La Celeste takes the field against Costa Rica tomorrow night, Uruguay will continue to write its prestigious football history with a trip to the 2010 World Cup on the line. For the third time in succession, Uruguay finished fifth in South American World Cup Qualifying, putting them in a playoff. 

After beating Australia in 2002 and losing on penalties in 2006, Uruguay was drawn against CONCACAF's Costa Rica this year. Should Uruguay and France make it through their respective play offs, all the past World Cup Champions will be in South Africa, a welcome sight for any fan of the game.

Captain Diego Lugano's goal after Costa Rica failed to deal with a corner in Tegucigalpa was enough to give Uruguay a vital one goal lead heading back to Montevideo and the historic Centenario Stadium. 

The stadium was built for the 1930 World Cup, which coincided with the 100th year of Uruguayan independence, hence the name Centenario. 

At the time of the inaugural World Cup, Uruguay was considered one of, if not the greatest team in the world. 

After winning the Olympic Gold in 1924 in Paris and 1928 in Amsterdam, Uruguay were clear favorites as hosts, while only neighbors Argentina posed a real threat.

The tournament went according to plan, and Argentina met Uruguay in the final, a rematch of the 1928 Olympic Gold Medal Match, when a replay was needed to settle the affair after the two nations drew one-one. 

Uruguay edged Argentina two-one in the replay thanks to a late goal from Hector Scarone and returned home as heroes. 

The first World Cup Final was equally as dramatic. Argentina got out to a half time lead, but Uruguay answered with three second half goals to win four to two and become World Champions.

Despite being champions, Uruguay refused to enter the World Cup in 1934 or 1938 and World War II wiped out the Cup during the 1940's.

Uruguay entered the first post World War II World Cup in 1950, where they again reached the final, this time against hosts Brazil.

In those days, the Final was actually a final group phase, and since Brazil had won both of their final round games, the hosts only needed a draw to win the tournament. 

In front of 200,000 fans at the Maracana stadium, Uruguay pulled off the impossible by beating Brazil with two late goals from Juan Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia. The result is still considered one of the greatest upsets of all time and is known as the Maracanazo

After finishing fourth in 1954, Uruguay faded somewhat into obscurity at the World Cup level, having failed to reach the quarterfinals since (although they did make the second round in 1986 and 1990).  

Uruguay's fantastic record goes beyond World Cups and Olympic Gold Medals. La Celeste has won 14 Copa America's (South America's continental competition) a record equaled by only Argentina. Brazil has only won the tournament eight times.

This time around, the Uruguayans have built a team that is stronger than any they have had in recent memory. 

Despite struggling with goalkeeping and defensive issues early in qualifying, coach Oscar Tabarez has finally settled with Lazio's Fernando Muslera as his number one. 

In front of the young goalkeeper, is captain and hero in the first leg of the Playoff, Diego Lugano. Lugano is the heart and soul of the team, and is one of the most underrated center backs in the game today. His goal against Costa Rica was his fourth in World Cup Qualifying for South Africa 2010. 

Although Lugano is without a doubt the team's inspiration, strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez grab most of the headlines. 

Forlan is one of the most prolific strikers in the world, having won the European Golden Boot twice, most recently last season for Atletico Madrid. One of the few hold overs from Uruguay's disappointing campaign at the 2002 World Cup, Forlan is desperate to return to the world's biggest stage.

His partner up front is Ajax star Luis Suarez, who has been fantastic for his club this season, averaging better than a goal per game so far. 

There have been many ups and downs for Uruguay throughout the brutally long qualifying campaign, but the thought amongst the players and coaches is that they are peaking at the right time.

A win against Costa Rica will give these players a chance to write their own chapter in Uruguay's stunning history. With many top class players plying their trade in Argentina and Europe, Uruguay will be a side all major contenders will want to avoid and neutrals will want to watch.