May 5 (Reuters) – Two-time world champions Uruguay were once a force in world football and while their star may not be shining as brightly as it once did, they could still make plenty of noise in Qatar with their mix of solid veterans and vibrant youth.
Oscar Tabarez’s 15-year reign ended in December after four straight defeats in a successful campaign, with Diego Alonso turning things around by winning his first four games in charge to seal their World Cup place.
‘La Celeste’ may rely heavily on aging players Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin but they have emerging talent in Darwin Nunez, Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur.
“They are players at the highest level of the world. They make a difference physically and technically,” Suarez told Marca.
“Our team, a mix of experience and youth, has many qualities, and that has a big impact on the World Cup.”
Alonso, however, is still looking for the right balance between veterans and youngsters, and has yet to find a system to bring out the best in his talented team.
Captain and defender Godin played the most minutes in Uruguay’s qualifying campaign but is in the twilight of his career at 38 and missed September’s friendlies against Iran and Canada through injury.
The duo of Suarez-Cavani, veterans of three World Cups and 126 international goals between them, has been the symbol of Uruguay’s attack but Alonso seems to have decided that he cannot continue to combine the two 35-year-olds.
Nunez looks more suited to playing for Uruguay who have tried and trusted a 4-4-2 alongside Cavani or Suarez but a three-man midfield allows Uruguay to play to their strengths, with Matias Vecino deputizing for Valverde and and Bentancur.
Against Iran, Uruguay conceded the only goal of the game after Alonso sent off Vecino and looked more vulnerable at the back after dropping the defensive midfielder in their 2-0 win over Canada.
They could be punished by strong opposition and will certainly face a tough test in Group H which includes Portugal, Ghana and South Korea.
Uruguay beat then European champions Portugal in Russia 2018 en route to the final and beat Ghana and South Korea en route to the last four in 2010 – the most they had gone since 1970.
If Alonso can solve the selection problems that plagued his predecessor, Uruguay could be well-placed to advance to the knockouts with another possible deep draw in Qatar.
Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Edited by Ken Ferris
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