"Other countries have their history and Uruguay has its football." Sadly, most of Uruguay's football is considered ancient history to today's football fans, but we cannot forget those who came first.
Uruguay's football resume is a list of astonishing accomplishments, including one that is largely unknown: Uruguay was the first National Football Team to field black players.
Later, Uruguay won Olympic Gold in 1924 and 1928 before hosting and winning the 1930 World Cup.
Over the years, Uruguay has produced some of the game's true legends, but the country of just over three million people has been passed by and largely forgotten.
This summer, Diego Lugano, Diego Forlan, and Luis Suarez will be amongst the stars in search of Uruguay's third World Cup, and a chance to be welcomed back to the pantheon of footballing greats.
Although Uruguay's archrival Argentina actually played the first ever World Cup match on July 13th 1930, the real party in Montevideo began on the 18th of that month when the host nation took on South American rival Peru at El Centenario in front of 70,000 crazy fans.
Although Uruguay would play high scoring attacking football throughout the tournament, the opening game was a workmanlike 1-0 triumph thanks to a goal from Nacional striker Hector Castro, beginning the country's love affair with football's main event.
Uruguay entered Italia 1990 with high hopes. Led by the brilliant Enzo Francescoli of Marseille, the Uruguayans had won the 1987 Copa America in Argentina, beating Diego Maradona's side on the way to victory no less, but the 1990 World Cup began without offensive fire works.
A dull scoreless draw with Spain was followed by a drubbing at the hands of Belgium, and La Celeste was in need of a victory against the Koreans in order to advance to the second round.
After 90 minutes the game remained scoreless, but in stoppage time, Francescoli picked out young striker Daniel Fonseca with a free kick, and the Nacional man headed home and booked Uruguay's passage into the Round of 16.
Rarely does a defeat warrant mentioning in any list of great moments, but Uruguay's defeat at the hands of the legendary Hungary side of Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti, and Zoltan Czibor, was one of the greatest semifinals in World Cup history in a clash of two of the greatest sides of all time.
Uruguay entered the match never having lost in a World Cup, while Hungary were the favorites and reigning Olympic Champions: something had to give. After Czibor and Hidegkuti had Hungary 2-0 and seemingly in control of the match, Penarol striker Juan Hohberg struck twice forcing extra time four minutes from the death.
In extra time, the Hungarians proved too much and Sandor Kocsis grabbed a brace in the span of five minutes and sent Hungary to the Final. Uruguay may have finally lost a match, but they had proven their place amongst the games best.
20 years passed in between World Cup appearences for Uruguay, and despite a long period of not competing at the highest level, there was no reason for La Celeste to believe they were not amongst the favorites at Brazil 1950.
Their first match of the tournament was against South American rivals Bolivia in what turned out to look more like a training exercise than a World Cup match.
The side's star man was Juan "Pep" Schiaffino who struck twice, but on particular day it was Oscar Miguez who stole the show, bagging a hat trick in an 8-0 win.
It is still the greatest margin of victory achieved by Uruguay in a World Cup.
Although Switzerland 1954 will always be remembered for Hungary’s Magical Magyars, Uruguay entered the tournament never having lost a match in the World Cup and boasted arguably the strongest squad with the bulk of the heroes from Brazil 1950 back in the fold such the likes of Juan “Pep” Schiaffino, who would go on to achieve great things at AC Milan, goalkeeper Roque Máspoli, and hardman Obdulio Varela.
The Guardian recently listed the Uruguay’s as the second best team to never win the cup, after topping Czechoslovakia 2-0, La Celeste took on Scotland and achieved the largest victory ever by a South America side over a European team in a World Cup: 7-0.
Carlos Borges set the men from the River Plate on their way when he avoided a sliding challenge and thrashed the opener from 12 yards out. He would go on to collect a hat trick, while Óscar Míguez and Julio Abbadie notched two goals each.
Uruguay will always be remembered as the first World Cup champions and pioneers in the game. Had they not reached the inaugural Final, odds are the legacy in the game would not be what it is today.
In the 1930 Semifinal, Uruguay took on Yugoslavia, one of the few European giants to make the trip, in front of nearly 100 thousand at El Centenario.
After Yugoslavia jumped out to a shock lead after just three minutes, the two-time defending Olympic Gold Medalists responded and thrashed the Europeans with six unanswered goals and a spot in the Final against archrival Argentina, who had beaten the USA by the same 6-1 score line.
To this day, 6-1 is still the largest margin of victory in a World Cup Semifinal.
Uruguay entered the 1970 Quarterfinal against the Soviet Union massive underdogs, Not only was Uruguay a small fraction in size and population as the USSR, but the days of the flowing attacking football were now gone and had managed just two goals, both against Israel, at that point in the tournament.
Uruguay did, however, had the man voted best goalkeeper of the tounrnament: Ladislao Mazurkiewicz who kept out the Soviets and the likes of Dynamo Kiev striker Anatoliy Byshovets for the 90 minutes and the game went to extra time.
Four minutes from the end, forward Luis Cubilla, well known for his time in Spain with Barcelona and Argentina with River Plate, saved a ball from going out of bounds before playing a brilliant cross for Víctor Espárrago to head home and send Uruguay onto the semifinals and a date with Brazil.
After the match, Mazurkiewicz was praised by retired USSR shotstopper Lev Yashin who called the Penarol man “his successor.”
Switzerland 1954 Quarter Final: England had been one of the biggest absentees and Uruguay was no happy about it, boycotting the World Cup in 1934 and 1938 in response to the big European nations decision not to cross the pond during the inaugural World Cup.
No one knows what would have happened had Uruguay gone to Italy or France, but due to their lack of participation, Los Charruas had never lost a World Cup match at the time they faced off against England, still confident despite a 6-3 thrashing at the hands of Hungary the year before and embarrassing loss at the hand of the USA during Brazil 1950.
The presence of the aging Stanley Mathews meant little to Uruguay who boast the likes of Obdulio Varela, Carlos Borges, Juan “Pep” Schiaffino, and Javier Ambrois who each scored a goal in a convincing 4-2 victory.
Although Uruguay went on to win the Copa America in 1956, the victory of England marked the end of a World Cup era as Schiaffino left to play for AC Milan and would later represent Italy, brilliant defender Jose Santamaria left for Real Madrid and would play for Spain at Chile 1962, Varela and brilliant goalkeeper Roque Maspoli retired, and Uruguay has not yet returned to become a power at the World Cup stage.
A rematch of the Amsterdam Olympics Final from two years before, the final of Uruguay 1930 pitted the unquestioned powers of World Football at the time against each other: Uruguay and Argentina.
Dorado gave Uruguay an early advantage, but Carlos Peucelle and the leading scorer of the first World Cup Guillermo Stabile put Argentina ahead going into the half.
The second half was all Uruguay and they won 4-2. The Uruguayans would not return to the World Cup for 20 years (boycotting after many top European sides refused to make the transatlantic voyage), when they would win again in Brazil.
Argentina went to Italy 4 years later, but with a largely amateur side. Most of their best played had been lured to Europe by the money, and three Argentines helped Italy lift the World Cup on home soil.
For some reason or another, this Uruguay team is often dismissed from the pantheon of great because of when it happened, but we must pay homage to the first true super power: Uruguay.
After conquering Europe by winning two Olympic Gold Medals and then the first World Cup, no one can deny a place amongst the greats. For those unfamiliar with the history of the game: Long before Brazil was Brazil, Brazil was Uruguay. The 1930 World Cup Final is proof of that.
For Uruguay as a country the game and World Cup came during the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence, hence the of the now mythical stadium: El Centenario.
Today it is used by the country’s top two clubs, Nacional and Penarol as well as the National Team.
The last game of the 1950 World Cup pitted the first World Cup Champions, Uruguay, against their neighbors and hosts Brasil, looking to win their first World Cup.
The 1950 tournament featured a Final Group Phase, rather than a knockout style tournament, and therefore the Brazilians only needed a draw to become World Champions after hitting seven past Sweden and six past Spain in the first two group matches.
Uruguay were such underdogs, that Angelo Mendes de Moraes, the state governor of Rio de Janeiro, proclaimed “You players who in less than a few hours will be acclaimed champions by millions of your compatriots…You who have no equals on the terrestrial hemisphere…You whom I already salute as conquerors.” in a pre-game address to both teams and the crowd of 200,000 at the Maracana.
The game was scoreless at half time, but it seemed only a matter of time before Brazil broke the deadlock, and they did just two minutes after the restart, through Friaca.
The celebrations had begun in the stands, surely Brazil would now go on to win by three or four, but goalkeeper Rosque Maspoli “performed acrobatic prodigies in goal” according to World Cup historian Glanville, and right winger Alcide Ghiggia took over the game.
In the 66th minute, he charged down the right (the Brazilian left) and played in a cross for Juan Schiaffino to level matters at one.
After the goal Brazilian coach Flavio Costa recalled: “Silence in the Maracana”, and it would only get worse.
Although a draw was still good enough to crown Brazil as champions, Ghiggia found himself again free down the right, this time beating goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa at the near post 11 minutes from time.
Ghiggia would say later: “Only three people have, with just one motion, silenced the Maracana, Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II, and me.
So ridiculed was Barbosa for the defeat, that in 2000 he said “In Brazil, the maximum sentence is thirty years, but I have served fifty.” Brazilian playwright Nelso Rodrigues called the match “our catastrophe, our Hiroshima.”
Following Brazil 1950, El Selecao changed from white jerseys to the famous bright yellow they are now famous for. Had Uruguay not pulled off the impossible, we may have never seen the shirt so synonymous with the Beautiful Game.
While the game stood as national disaster for Brazil, for Uruguay it is by far the country's greatest sporting achievement against all the odds.
Ghiggia and Schiaffino are still idols in Uruguay today, but the public holds out hope that Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez can join them in immortality.