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Uruguay Copa America preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's Copa America tournament, Sports Mole previews Uruguay's chances as they seek a first title in 10 years.

A decade on from their last Copa America victory and Uruguay continue to hold the record for the most title wins in the competition (15), with regional rivals Argentina (14) failing to make up the ground in the time elapsed.

Despite the 10-year gap, Uruguay have not changed massively in terms of squad personnel, staff and prevailing footballing identity.

Uruguay players line up on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Head coach Oscar Tabarez remains at the helm, continuing his 15-year reign, while Diego Godin, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Fernando Muslera and Martin Caceres are also still key players that will all be heavily relied upon this summer.

Yet despite his arcane methods, Tabarez has been keeping an eye firmly on the future and the 74-year-old has managed to integrate a cohort of promising youngsters into his crop of inveterate national legends.

Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez looks set to inherit the captaincy when Godin finally decides to hang up his boots, while Real Madrid's Federico Valverde and Juventus's Rodrigo Bentancur have added some much-needed steel in the centre of the park, somewhere Uruguay have always lacked depth.

In fusing the team's promising future with its iconic past, Tabarez will hope his side have with it takes to do battle with neighbours Brazil and Argentina.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Uruguay's chances at the Copa America.


GROUP

Uruguay will be kicking things off in Group B with a high-profile grudge match against regional heavyweights Argentina, which presents something of a baptism of fire for La Celeste.

Copa America Group A

A promising spectacle for fans of the beautiful game, Tabarez may look forward to seeing how his side fare against such exalted opposition, with a win against Messi and Co being a huge morale boost going into the other group games.

Following their opener, La Celeste face challenges in the form of games against Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay, all of whom are capable of being dangerous on their day.

FIXTURES

June 19: Argentina vs. Uruguay (1am BST, Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasilia)
June 21: Uruguay vs. Chile (10pm BST, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
June 24: Bolivia vs. Uruguay (10pm BST, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
June 29: Uruguay vs. Paraguay (1am BST, Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro)


RECENT FORM

While it always feels like a mistake to critique Uruguay given the impetus that Tabarez puts on defensive robustness, it is worth noting that Uruguay have failed to win a game in 2021 and have in fact failed to score a goal for three fixtures now.

Uruguay's Jose Gimenez and Matias Vecino in action with Venezuela's Romulo Otero on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Of course, the flip side of that is that La Celeste have also not lost a game in 2021 and come into this tournament on the back of two fine defensive performances.

However, there would appear to be a lot of pressure on Suarez to find the back of the net for La Celeste, and Tabarez may well be concerned that the Atleti man has failed to do so for the national team this year.


SQUAD

Uruguay players line up on June 3, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Campana (Al-Batin), Sergio Rochet (Nacional)

Defenders: Diego Godin (Cagliari), Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP), Ronald Araujo (Barcelona), Martin Caceres (Fiorentina), Matias Vina (Palmeiras), Giovanni Gonzalez (Penarol), Camilo Candido (Nacional)

Midfielders: Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Fernando Gorriaran (Santos Laguna), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Nahitan Nandez (Cagliari), Luca Torreira (Arsenal), Nicolas De la Cruz (River Plate), Brian Rodriguez (Los Angeles FC), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Flamengo)

Forwards: Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid), Edinson Cavani (Manchester United), Maxi Gomez (Valencia), Jonathan Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Facundo Torres (Penarol), Brian Ocampo (Nacional)


STAR PLAYER - Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez in action for Uruguay on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Atleti's Suarez, or El Pistolero as he is lovingly known, remains Uruguay's star man after emerging on the international stage back in 2010.

Providing bite, grit and tireless determination in the final third of the pitch, Suarez has been La Celeste's biggest threat for over a decade and El Pistolero could still offer a lot to the side this summer.

Yet, now 34-years-old and in the wake of a gruelling La Liga-winning campaign with Atleti, it would almost be miraculous if Suarez were to play every minute for Uruguay this summer.

Thankfully for La Celeste, the team is blessed with the likes of Cavani, who has enjoyed a solid season for Manchester United, and Gomez of Valencia.


MANAGER - Oscar Tabarez

Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez pictured on October 8, 2020© Reuters

Tabarez, the man who has become all but synonymous with Uruguayan football, has spent years of his managerial career at the reins of the national setup and has dedicated much of his professional life to building the robust and free-scoring Uruguay side that we know today.

Appointed manager in 2006, the Montevideo-born coach is credited with modernising football in Uruguay, with the results of his endeavours being a fourth-place finish in the 2010 World Cup and the country's first Copa America win in 16 years in 2011.

However, the last decade has not been a fruitful one for Tabarez's Uruguay, with a last 16 World Cup exit in 2014 and then a quarter-final World Cup exit in 2018, with not much luck in the Copa America either.

Regardless of the nation's title drought, Tabarez soldiers on in search of silverware and, with the players the nation has at its disposal, you would think he would get his hands on some pretty soon.


COPA AMERICA RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1935, 1942, 1956, 1959, 1967, 1983, 1987, 1995, 2011)

Uruguay players celebrate winning the 2011 Copa America final© Reuters

It is easy to forget just how brilliant Uruguay have been throughout their history, with 15 Copa America titles complementing their two World Cup victories.

While a lot can be attributed to their early dominance during the inaugural years of international football in South America, a lot should also be said about the team's consistency throughout the years, with sustained periods of greatness in the 50s and 80s.

La Celeste's 2011 Copa America title, their first in 16 years and first under Tabarez's stewardship, was a special moment for players and fans alike, many of whom had not yet seen a Uruguay side play so well.

Suarez, as always, played an important role in the final against Paraguay, with the forward banging in the opening goal of the game.

However, the game was put beyond all doubt by Diego Forlan, one of the nation's most legendary strikers, who scored a brace on the night.

Paraguay were beaten 3-0 by a La Celeste side who had finally emerged on the world stage as a rejuvenated footballing powerhouse.


PREDICTION

Uruguay are perennial dark horses in South American football, a tentative titan that always seems to get overshadowed by Argentina and Brazil.

As is the norm with La Celeste, Tabarez's men are underdogs in this tournament, and they will need to fight hard if they are to challenge for their 16th title.

We expect them to reach the semi-finals this summer, but we do not think they have enough in the tank to see them go the distance. Expect a few quality strikes from El Pistolero, though.

VERDICT: Semi-finals

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Chile's Alexis Sanchez in action with Uruguay's Giovanni Gonzalez at the Copa America on June 24, 2019
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