2010 World Cup profile: Uruguay
Scoring machine Diego Forlán has lit up Spain in recent seasons; now he'll carry a nation with wounded soccer pride on his back.
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Uruguay. Click here for the full archive.
Atlético Madrid star and two-time European Golden Boot winner Diego Forlán is widely considered one of the most feared strikers in the world, both from short and long range. He won the "Pichichi" last season as the top scorer in Spain's La Liga and is primed to make his mark on the greatest stage of all.
Uruguay may lack depth in certain aspects of its game, but it will feature one of the deadliest attacking partnerships in South Africa. Forlán's partner up front, Ajax star Luis Suárez, can create scoring opportunities out of nothing, and has been targeted by several of Europe's top clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona.
Another star in the making is attacking midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro. The 20-year-old only recently broke into the national team, but he has the potential to be one of the revelations of the tournament. If he lives up to the hype (Lodeiro has earned ongoing comparisons with Argentina superstar Lionel Messi), Uruguay could make a greater impact than most expect.
But if la Celeste intends to go far in the World Cup, its chances reside with its defense. Captain Diego Lugano (the successor of retired legend Paolo Montero) always rises to the big occasion -- he's not only a rock at central defender, but he also can score crucial goals. He nailed Uruguay's winner in the first leg of the playoff at Costa Rica.
What to watch for
For a tiny country of just 3.4 million, Uruguay has produced an abundance of talent over the years. Its current squad is one of the best it has fielded in many years, and has enough talent to escape a tricky Group A. When on top of its game, Uruguay can beat the very best. But it's also s a team of underachievers, often relying too much on the inspiration of its big names.
Uruguay has finally discovered a talented playmaker in Lodeiro, and if he's able to provide Forlán and Suárez with adequate service, the Uruguayans could turn plenty of heads. The quality is definitely there, and if the two-time world champions take advantage of their attacking flair, they could return to being the force they once were.
Since Oscar Tabárez was appointed coach for a second time in 2006, Uruguay has become a much more disciplined unit. Its main weakness, however, is that it lacks creativity in the midfield. Most of its established players are better as holding mids. Another problem is that there are a number of strong egos in the squad, something that has classically plagued Uruguay in World Cups in the modern era. Internal strife was one of the main reasons it failed to advance from its group in '02.
With such a difficult group, and a potential meeting with archrival Argentina in the round of 16, Uruguay has no choice but to put aside its differences and concentrate on becoming a more unified group. Its success depends on it.
Key match in group stage
June 22 vs. Mexico. Group A is evenly balanced, and Uruguay knows the outcome of its final game likely will determine who advances. Uruguay has a fierce rivalry with Mexico -- several showdowns between the teams over the years have been marred by in-game scuffles. Traditionally, la Celeste doesn't respond well when provoked. Its only option is to keep its cool for the full 90 minutes against the Mexicans.
Celebrity scouting report: ESPN Deportes' Jorge Ramos*
All Uruguayans understand that our best days our behind us, soccer-wise. We'd like to rekindle what we had, but we understand the odds don't play in our favor. With such a small country, it's hard to compete with the Germanys and Italys of the world, much less our own neighbors, Argentina and Brazil. ... Normally, I'm such a high critic to the point where Uruguayans don't like me much. But I truly believe this time is different. I'm not saying we'll be champs, but we're very capable of having a very good World Cup. We've always had the material and the quality. In the past, egos have played against us. But this team seems different. They get it. I can assure you this, because I've talked to a lot of people involved with the national team: These guys have the makeup, and they could be a huge, huge surprise. They honestly believe they have what it takes to get to the final. ... The most important thing is for Uruguay to find a playmaker. We were missing that through almost all of qualifying. Ignacio González was that guy, but he kept getting injured and moved from club to club. I hope we can get him back. Lodeiro could do it, too. If we get something out of one of those guys, we'll improve our chances. All Suárez and Forlán need is someone to get them the ball.
* The Montevideo, Uruguay, native is the host of Jorge Ramos y su Banda, simulcast on TV and radio from 4 to 7 p.m. ET every weekday. As told to Jonah Freedman.