Uruguay's run to the semi-finals in 2010 remains La Celeste's only appearance in the last four for over half a century, but a third-place finish in qualifying has raised hopes around the prospects of Diego Alonso's side.
This article was originally published on 21 September 2022
Considered South America's 'best of the rest' following Brazil and Argentina's domination over CONMEBOL qualification, the Uruguayans picked up vital points in key fixtures that ultimately proved the difference in keeping the likes Ecuador, Peru and Colombia at bay.
Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and company went into the final match of the round-robin phase having already sealed their berth at a fourth successive World Cup finals tournament.
An open group consisting of South Korea, Portugal and Ghana leaves them at 1/2 to qualify for the knockouts, while 12/5 says they make the quarter-finals for the third edition in a row.
|When:||20th November - 18th December 2022|
|How to watch:||All matches will be shown on either the BBC or ITV|
|Odds:||Brazil 9/2, England 11/2, France 6/1, Spain 8/1, Argentina 7/1|
Diego Alonso named his final 26-man squad on 10th November.
Winners of the inaugural spectacle on home soil in 1930, Uruguay boast stellar World Cup pedigree with notable success in the early years. Having taken top prize on their first two outings - La Celeste skipped the 1934 and 1938 tournaments, before pipping Brazil in the final group stage of 1950's modified-format edition.
Their famous win over the hosts to the dismay of a packed-out Maracana proved to be the end of their dominance, however; not since then has the small South American nation lined up for a final.
Finishing fourth in Switzerland in 1954 after an agonising extra-time defeat to the Mighty Magyars of Hungary in the semi-finals, they repeated the feat when dumped out of the last four by a vengeful Brazil in Guadalajara on their way to the 1970 title.
A spate of failed qualification attempts followed, packed around underwhelming last-16 exits in 1986 and 1990, before they redeemed themselves in South Africa with a run to the semis once again, undone by a Wesley Snejider-inspired Netherlands.
Last time out they reached the quarter-finals - a round further than in 2014 - but were well-beaten by eventual champions France.
|Semi-finals||1954, 1970, 2010|
|Last 16||1986, 1990, 2014|
|Group stage||1962, 1974, 2002|
La Celeste clinched the third of four automatic qualification berths in the South American zone, pipping Ecuador by two points and forcing Peru into an intercontinental playoff, while Colombia, sixth, missed out entirely, just five points behind them.
The gap between Alonso's men and leading pair Brazil and Argentina proved much larger, with the Albiceleste a whole 11 points clear of them in second.
Of Uruguay's six defeats recorded in the 18-match cycle, four came against the top two – and three were particularly one-sided affairs, including a 4-1 drubbing in Manaus in October 2021.
Nevertheless, they stepped up their game at crucial points, with a convincing 0-3 win in Barranquilla, Colombia in November 2020 setting the tone early on.
Points were dropped in disappointing draws with Paraguay and Venezuela, as well as in a surprise 3-0 altitude-infused defeat in lofty La Paz against also-rans Bolivia, but a brave choice in firing their long-term coach midway through the process ultimately paid dividends when a solo Giorgian de Arrascaeta goal against Peru on the penultimate matchday saw Uruguay home.
Uruguay will kick off their Group H games in a clash against South Korea on 24th November. A win for the South Americans is priced at 3/4, with a win for the Taeguk Warriors available at 15/4 and a stalemate at 5/2.
The decisive encounter may come four evenings later, when Portugal face them in Lusail. Then, in a repeat of the World Cup 2010 quarter-final, La Celeste take on Ghana in a last chance to seal progression.
Former Valencia and Malaga striker Alonso is the man at the helm for the tournament in Qatar.
Having coached extensively across Latin America and the United States – most recently with Inter Miami – the Montevideo native took over the reins from the iconic Oscar Tabarez, who had overseen the national team for 15 years at the time of his dismissal in late 2021.
Instantly popular in the wake of four wins from his first four matches in charge, Alonso is considered to have stood up well to the pressure of replacing one of international football's most established managers.
Real Madrid central midfielder Federico Valverde is the standout man in La Celeste's ranks.
Cruelly kept out of the Russia 2018 tournament by injury, he will be raring to go in Qatar after cementing his place at the core of Los Blancos' side.
His versatility also offers Alonso an extra option down the right flank if needed. The 24-year-old has a Champions League, a Club World Cup and two Spanish league titles under his belt already and his importance cannot be understated.
As the old guard of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, 36, defender and captain Diego Godin, 36, and forwards Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, 35, all approach the end of their international careers, there is room – and perhaps a need – for new heroes in the Uruguay side.
Step forward Darwin Nunez, newly acquired by Liverpool and given a chance to shine in the 2022/23 Premier League season having impressed in Portugal with Benfica.
The 23-year-old striker, 50/1 to be the tournament's leading scorer, will arrive in Doha with only a handful of international caps, owing to his tender age and the abundance of elder strike options in a top-heavy team.
This World Cup comes at a pivotal time for the former Almeria man, who faces being thrust into the limelight on both the club and international scenes in a short space of time.
Uruguay predicted line-up (4-3-3): Sergio Rochet; Mathias Oliveira Miramontes, Sebastian Coates, Martin Caceres, Damian Suarez; Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde, Lucas Torreira; Edinson Cavani, Darwin Nunez, Facundo Pellestri.
The dilemma facing Alonso in terms of personnel is where to draw the line between experience and youth. If the young but unproven Nunez leads the line ahead of De Arrascaeta, who sometimes features as a false nine, it will likely mean utilising World Cup veteran Luis Suarez from the bench.
Similarly, 35-year-old Martin Caceres could have anticipated that his final experience of a World Cup would be spent largely in the dugout, though that could all change with the news that Barcelona's Ronald Araujo will miss out on Qatar after undergoing thigh surgery, while 23-year-old stopper Sergio Rochet of Montevideo's Nacional looks to have deposed Muslera between the posts.
There will have been conservative celebration in Montevideo at the revelation of Uruguay's group draw, but many supporters will remember all too well the dark years between runs to the semi-finals, as well as the premature exit in Brazil in 2014.
Life could get tricky if Portugal – as expected – take top spot after the opening three games. Progression as the second-placed Group H side means a potentially tough last-16 encounter with the winner of Brazil's group.
The Selecao looked imposing in qualifying and could spell the end of the road for Alonso's men, should they fail to topple the Portuguese on matchday two.