Olympics Betting: Watch out for Uruguay in Soccer
Tabarez is an outstanding tactician, but he also manages people and of course the one feeds off the other
Jonathan Wilson tells us why Oscar Washington Tabarez side can maybe go all the way in the 2012 Olympics.
When Oscar Washington Tabarez took charge of Uruguay for the first time, for the 1990 World Cup, his job was to restore the reputation of Celeste football after the thuggery of 1986.
This time, he has completed it and more: in three tournaments since taking over following the failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, he has taken Uruguay to two semi-finals (Copa America 2007, World Cup 2010) and then to a record 15th Copa title.
A year on from victory over Paraguay at el Monumental, and the Olympic Games offers him the chance to go even further, to evoke the memories of the 1920s when Uruguayan victories at the Olympics confirmed their position as the world's first great non-British team.
"Game after game," the poet Eduardo Galeano wrote of Uruguay's performances in Paris in 1924, "the crowd jostled to see those men, slippery as squirrels, who played chess with a ball. The English squad had perfected the long pass and the high ball but these disinherited children from far-off America didn't walk in their father's footsteps. They chose to invent a game of close passes directly to the foot, with lightning changes in rhythm and high-speed dribbling." They scored 17 goals and conceded just two in their four matches and four years later they won the gold again. When the World Cup arrived to dim the lustre of Olympic football, they won that as well.
Tabarez's side cannot be as great as that team - at least not unless they do the unthinkable and win the World Cup in Brazil in two years - but given the context, given how the world of football has changed, it's hard to argue against this as a second golden age.
It's equally hard to dispute that this is a golden age of Tabarez's reation. Six years ago, when he took the job, la Celeste had failed to qualify for the World Cup. He insisted he complete control over all levels of the Uruguayan national team; the decision to centralise power has been emphatically vindicated. The Under-17 side reached the final of the World Cup earlier this month. The Under-20 side reached the final of the South American Championship, which was what earned them their place in the Olympics.
Tabarez is an outstanding tactician, but he also manages people and of course the one feeds off the other, for players are far more likely to make sacrifices and follow instructions if they have faith in their manager and are committed to the collective.
Diego Godin missed most of the Copa America; Tabarez brought him on with five minutes of the final remaining to ensure every outfield member of the squad had played some part in the victory. After a rotten season at Atletico Madrid,Diego Forlan said joining up with the Uruguay squad was like arriving among friends. On one occasion, when Tabarez gave his players time off, they gathered in their hotel's television room to watch the Under 17-team playing in their World Cup.
Now youth and senior players get to play together. The overage players suggest just how seriously Uruguay are taking the tournament: Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will form a fluid attacking partnership, with Gaston Ramirez pushing up from the right to join them. Egidio Arevalo Rios, also of Parma, is the other overage player, a hard-working defensive midfielder whose importance to Uruguay's recent success has often been overlooked.
At the back, Sebastian Coates has the chance to remind people just how good he looked at the Copa America before a season at Liverpool in which he found opportunities limited.
With Brazil and Spain offering little value, Uruguay at must be tempting (although as a back to lay, Mexico at and Egypt at at may be even more so).
But it's Uruguay who are potential winners. This side may not be as slippery as squirrels, but they are motivated, balanced and expertly led.