We are now two days away from the World Cup as anticipation is at a high. The time for all our questions being answered is almost upon us like who will be this tournament’s dark horse. Many have tackled this question in the run up to Russia 2018 and there have been many answers like Belgium (which isn’t really a dark horse considering some believe they are contenders to win and they have one of the strongest squads in the tournament) and Portugal. However, I believe Uruguay can very well be this year’s dark horse.
In order to do well at a World Cup you need to have a reliable backline and goalkeeper, a goalscoring threat, and a bit of luck and Uruguay have checked all those boxes.
Starting with the defense, Uruguay have many strong players to fill the back four. Captain Diego Godin plays for Atletico Madrid who have one of the best defenses in Europe and is in the debate for best defender in the world. His center back partner also plays for Atletico Madrid in the form of Jose Gimenez. Playing together at their club side, as well as the national team, will have helped them to develop a strong relationship which will aid them in understanding of each other on the pitch. Although it can be argued the fullbacks are below their standard or past their best, their coach Oscar Tabarez has established a strong mentality into the team. He has been coach since 2006 and with so much time in charge he has been able to instill into his team a playing style that will suit them in the World Cup. Uruguay are a team that play a stable 4-4-2 that looks to defend first and seal the opposition out after taking the lead. Therefore, this can bring the defense together into a strong unit capable of keeping a clean sheet against anyone on their day. Add that on top of their quality goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and they certainly have the capability of going far thanks to their defense keeping them in games.
Although Uruguay aren’t the most offensive team, they do boast talented players including lethal strikers Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. These players have been tearing up Europe for years with their ability to score so many goals (Suarez struggled this season sure, but still had a respectable goal return and would you really bet against him scoring at the World Cup?) they can trouble any side. Plus, they have young talent coming through like Nahitan Nandez, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Lucas Torreira who can help create in the midfield. In tight games having players like Suarez and Cavani who can change a game in an instant could propel Uruguay past some difficult games in the knockout stages.
Perhaps there will be more good luck coming their way when the World Cup starts, but they have already been given a gift in the group stage draw. They were placed into Group A with hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Many have them have Uruguay as favorites to top the group and rightly so considering the talent in their squad, especially in comparison to the other teams in their group. If they can top their group, they would play whoever comes second in Group B which contains Portugal, Iran, Spain, and Morocco. The majority foresee Spain topping the group and Portugal finishing second, which would set up a round of 16 clash between Uruguay and Portugal. Portugal are a strange team as they could repeat the Euros and win the World Cup against all the odds or they can equally fall short and fail to get out of the group stages. If Portugal don’t show up Uruguay could win, but even if they do this game looks like a 50-50 Uruguay will look to pounce on. Then in the quarter finals they would likely play France. France are many’s pick to win it all, but they can easily crash out against Uruguay considering the lack of leaders in the squad and inexperience. With their strong defense they could frustrate the French and possibly win the game through one of their strikers producing at the right moment.
Uruguay made the semi-finals in 2010 with many survivors like Suarez still in the squad so they have the experience of going deep in the tournament. In addition, they finished second in CONMEBOL qualifying which is one of if not the most difficult qualifiers in the world.
Although I don’t think Uruguay will get passed the round of 16 because of a gut feeling (although I am starting to convince myself they will make the quarters), don’t be surprised if they make the semifinals and if they do that, who’s to say they can’t win the World Cup?