During Uruguay home games over the last decade or so, a giant banner has been unfurled in the crowd in Montevideo's Centenario stadium. On it is a number -- 1950.
The banner commemorates the last time that
But in addition to their skill, the banner is also a tribute to the temperament of that team, exemplified by captain
On Friday, Uruguay is back in the lion's den. When it meets Ghana in the quarterfinals, it will be taking on much more than a country. In Africa's first World Cup, Ghana now represents the honor of the entire continent. There have even been reports of millions of Nigerians swallowing their pride to cheer on Ghana's Black Stars. There will be a powerful wind blowing behind the Ghana players in Johannesburg.
And Uruguay would not have it any other way. This is the type of situation that so often brings out the best in the Sky Blues -- and not just in 1950. On a lesser scale, the current team has a track record of spoiling the party. In 2007, it produced a clinical display to eliminate host Venezuela from the Copa America.
Uruguay, then, feels that it has the temperament and ability to cope with the Ghana game. The team has a spine of experienced players, all of whom are enjoying an excellent campaign. There is captain and center back
Alongside these veterans, there is also an interesting generation of younger players breaking through. For a country with a population little greater than 3 million, Uruguay produces footballers in extraordinary quantity. Over the last few years priority has been given to developing technically gifted youngsters, and the hard work is bearing fruit.
In the mid-'90s,
Uruguay has gone down the same path, with coach
Last year, Uruguay performed well and showcased promising players in the World Cups at both U-17 and U-20 levels. The latter side looked especially interesting. In the course of the campaign they drew 2-2 with eventual champions Ghana, who have fast tracked several members of that team into the senior squad in action in South Africa. Uruguay has so far promoted only one, captain of that side
Lodeiro, though, is a player for the future.
With his stocky build and low center of gravity, Suarez loves cutting in toward goal from wide positions. He can be inconsistent and frustrating, but this is part of his threat. With his pace and ability to go either side of the defender, it is difficult to predict what he will do. He has so many options available to him that he does not always choose the best one -- but when he does he can dismantle any defense.
If Forlan and Suarez can hit form together, then along with its resilience Uruguay can count on the fire and skill to get past Ghana. If it does, then maybe in a few year's time there will be another banner in the crowd whenever Uruguay plays in the Centenario stadium -- with "2010" written on it.