Uruguay’s national football team kick-off their World Cup Russia 2018 Qualifiers with no other ambitions except to retain the fifth place in the South America league table. This will allow the team to compete in a playoff which they have entered into consecutively since 2002. 

Uruguay’s poor performance in the last World Cup and in the friendly matches suggests that there is no immediate remedy to the situation, especially with star player Luis Suarez’s absence throughout 2015.

 Suarez is a star at Spanish champions FC Barcelona, but he still needs to serve a four-match ban with his national side as punishment for controversially biting Italian player Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil 2014. Uruguay’s rich soccer history and recent successes such as coming fourth in South Africa 2014 and winning the Copa America in 2011, together with star players such as Suarez and Edinson Cavani, have given the fans something to look forward to. 

However, passage to the World Cup for the South American side in recent decades have been obtained through “blood, sweat and tears”. “It’s difficult for us. We are not in such different circumstances to the previous Qualifiers. We have always been fifth and now our predicted ranking is fifth yet again,” said Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay’s coach since 2006, days before the start of the qualifiers. Statistics supports Tabarez’ statement. 

Since France 1998, Uruguay have ended the Qualifiers in fifth place in four out of the five editions. For this reason, Uruguay have entered the World Cup play-offs. The playoffs involve two extra matches against a rival from another world region in order to pass to the final tournament. 

In 2002, 2010 and 2014 editions, Uruguay managed to win a place in the tournament but in 2006 they lost the opportunity and were forced to watch the tournament held in Germany from afar. After winning the Copa America 2011 in Argentina, the Uruguayans hoped to smoothly qualify for the World Cup with Suarez, Cavani and Diego Forlan. However, despite the results obtained in the first few matches, the South American team were plagued by a losing streak of 2 wins out of 18 games which led to Uruguay’s future in the tournament, held in Brazil, looking bleak. The final stage of the Qualifiers was memorable. 

With four victories in the final five matches, Uruguay concluded the qualifiers in the fifth position and headed to the playoffs. Tabarez thinks that there are “four teams that seem to have a better chance of qualifying than Uruguay and there are another six teams that are in with a fighting chance”. “You have to take past history into account: Brazil and Argentina have always qualified. They are powers and they have many players to choose from,” said Tabarez. “Chile and Colombia are also coming into the qualifiers with many experienced players who can still perform well. They also have coaching teams with previous experience which make you think that these will be the teams to qualify,” added Tabarez. 

Even though Tabarez is aware of his team’s possibilities, he has not given up hope. “The emotions and expectations of all South America’s populations are at stake and no one will renounce the possibility of qualifying so early on in the qualifiers,” Tabarez said.

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