Uruguay poised to emulate the stars of 1950

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By the end of March 2017, Uruguay was at a crossroads.

Despite boasting world class forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the proud South American nation had lost three World Cup qualifiers in a row, a 3-1 defeat to Chile, a 4-1 reverse to Brazil and a sobering 2-1 loss to Peru. 

Every Copa America squad here

 

The vestiges of a counter-attacking, fighting mentality that peaked in the nation's run to the 2010 World Cup semi-finals were being picked off and ripped apart by an ageing squad and more tactically malleable opponents. 

The slump sparked the catalyst for a change in personnel and philosophy that, two years on, is set to bear fruit at the scene of arguably Uruguayan football's greatest moment, Rio's iconic Maracana. 

With the team slumping, elder statesmen Carlos Sanchez, Alvaro Rodriguez and Cristian Gonzalez were shipped out, replaced by emerging talents such as Lucas Torreira, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Rodrigo Bentacur and Federico Valverde. 

Those same players now represent Arsenal, Flamengo, Juventus and Real Madrid respectively. With the youth came a thought revolution as Uruguay started to experiment with a more flexible style, Parked buses were replaced with energetic high pressing. The likes of Suarez and Cavani weren't reduced to lurking around the middle third like stray dogs picking off scraps, trying to catch teams out on the counter. 

Rigid 4-4-2s gave way to exploratory 4-3-3s. AC Milan left back Diego Laxalt brought a pugilist's energy to the defence, striding forward in attack like he forgot to read the instruction Manual. 

The results followed. In fact, In the two years since that 2-1 loss to Peru on 29 March 2017, Uruguay has only tasted defeat once in 15 matches - a 2-0 defeat to eventual champion France at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

In its last three friendlies, albeit against Thailand, Uzbekistan and Panama, Uruguay has scored 10 goals and conceded none. The form of Girona striker Cristhian Stuani, who scored 20 goals in 34 matches fo the LaLiga club this season, gives Uruguay a third option up front, with veteran manager Oscar Tabarez trialling a 4-4-1-1 formation in recent matches. 

With much of the pre Copa America news focusing on how the loss of Neymar will effect heavily-favoured host nation Brazil, or whether Lionel Scaloni can get Argentina's vast array of stars to finally gel at a major tournament, Uruguay finds itself an an all-too familiar position in which it thrives, under the radar. 

It was a similar predicament to that faced by the 1950 Uruguay team on the eve of its World Cup final against host nation Brazil, at the Maracana. Uruguay stunned Brazil 2-1 in one of the most famous wins in the tournament's history. More than half a century later, a new generation of talented, underrated Uruguay players will be quietly confident of emulating their forebears at the same venue.  

URUGUAY SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera, Martin Silva, Martin Campana

Defenders: Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez, Sebastian Coates, Martin Caceres, Marcelo Sarrachi

Midfielders: Giovanni Gonzalez, Diego Laxalt, Lucas Torreira, Matias Vecino, Rodrigo Bentancur, Nahitan Nandez, Federico Valverde, Nicolas Lodeiro, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Gaston Pereiro

Forward: Edinson Cavani, Cristhian Stuani, Maximiliano Gomez, Jonathan Rodriguez, Luis Suarez