Oscar Tabarez did not get the heroic send-off his tenure deserved. The first time he managed Uruguay was all the way back in 1988, the last time in November 2021. After four straight losses and a World Cup place slipping out of grasp, something had to change, and the 75-year-old was bluntly dismissed.
The decision was proven correct when new coach Diego Alonso finished the qualifying campaign with four straight wins over Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru, and Chile, with Uruguay ending up third in the final table. In friendlies, they’ve beaten Mexico, Panama, and Canada while drawing with the United States and losing to Iran.
How do they play?
In the nine games so far, 47-year-old head coach Alonso has varied quite a bit. They are likely to keep things under control in defense and push for counter-attacks but have the tools available to press high if necessary. With a hard-working midfield in their early prime, much will depend on how well they can control the opposition.
In qualification, they scored just 1.12 goals per 90 minutes, with more than half coming from penalties or long-range. But they also hit the woodwork twice as much as anyone else with ten denials by the posts.
Why they can win?
For a nation of just 3.5 million people, Uruguay has tremendous quality and quantity throughout the team. They have the underdog spirit to fight anyone but also a winning pedigree, meaning they won’t be afraid of the opposition. A deep run is not out of the question.
Why they can lose?
Of the six most capped Uruguayan players, five are likely to be on the plane to Qatar. But there is an apparent gap, a changing of the guard looming as much of the squad is not even in their prime yet. Finding the right balance will be difficult and for the younger generation, this will be a World Cup to learn.
The leading stars
Liverpool’s 75-million-euro striker Darwin Nunez might have to wait for his chance as both Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are still going strong. Suarez scored eight goals in qualifying, and after spending three months back home with Nacional is listed as a free agent again. Cavani meanwhile signed for Valencia and has scored a goal every 110 minutes in La Liga.
The fresh faces
24-year-old Real Madrid midfielder Fede Valverde needs no introduction, but this will be his first World Cup experience after winning his first Champions League title in May. Barcelona center-back Ronald Araujo and Napoli left-back Mathias Olivera are also first-timers set to play a prominent role, while Manchester United’s 20-year-old winger Facundo Pellistri might be one to watch out for.