How much will Uruguay rely on Suarez, Cavani at World Cup 2022?

Can Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani still carry the team despite their age?

Uruguay enter the World Cup as dark horses [File: PABLO PORCIUNCULA / AFP]

Previous World Cup appearances: 13
Titles: 2 (1930,1950)
Best finish: Winners (1930, 1950)
World Cup record: W24 D12 L20
Goals scored: 87
Biggest win: 8-0 vs Bolivia (1950)
Player to watch: Luis Suarez
Ranking: 14
Group stage fixtures: South Korea (November 24), Portugal (November 28), Ghana (December 2)

A lot has changed for Uruguay in the four years since the 2018 World Cup. Their manager of 15 years is gone, the youth core has matured and the two key figures of the past decade are in the twilight of their careers.

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The road to Qatar was a bumpy one for La Celeste, who were at risk of missing out on qualification at one stage. But they arrive at the tournament with high hopes.

“Uruguay will always try to compete at the World Cup to the maximum, to try to go as far as possible and why not be champions? Because we have the players for that,” said the country’s top scorer, Luis Suarez

“Even though we know the difficulty that every game in the World Cup presents, we always believe in it,” he said.

Qualification process

One of the biggest changes for Uruguay this time will be the absence of Oscar Tabarez on the touchline.

The man fondly known as “El Maestro” had been at the helm for 15 years and had overseen the team’s qualification in the previous three World Cups, including a third-place finish in 2010.

But Tabarez was sacked after a poor start to their campaign for the 2022 World Cup, which saw them slip to seventh in the qualification table.

His replacement, former Atletico Madrid striker Diego Alonso, had an immediate impact. Uruguay won all of their four remaining games and sealed qualification.

Uruguay football
Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani in action in the qualifier against Brazil. [Pool via Reuters]

Unsurprisingly, Suarez was the star performer for Uruguay in the qualifiers. He was the second-highest scorer, and his eight goals put him ahead of Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Who’s in their group? 
Uruguay have been drawn in Group H alongside Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. While it is a challenging group, La Celeste have beaten each of these three teams in recent World Cups. They knocked Portugal out of the tournament in 2018 and beat South Korea in their round of 16 encounter in 2010.

But the tie of the group is undoubtedly their game against Ghana.

The last time the two met was in the quarter-final of the 2010 World Cup, which is best remembered for Suarez’s goal-line save with his hands in the last minute of extra time to prevent a certain Ghana goal.

It is one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history.

Suarez was sent off for the offence, but Ghana missed the subsequent penalty and went on to lose the game in the penalty shootout. Suarez was hailed as a hero in Uruguay, but in Ghana, he remains public enemy number one to this day. The sequel to this 2010 fixture promises to be thrilling.

Suarez’s infamous handball in the 2010 World Cup [File: REUTERS/Brian Snyder]

Past performances and form
Tabarez was appointed as manager in 2006 after the team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup that year. Since then, La Celeste has qualified for every major tournament on their calendar. They’ve made it out of the group stages in each of the past three World Cups and reached the semi-finals in 2010, where they lost to the Netherlands.

Uruguay enter the World Cup in good form: They’ve won seven of their nine games this calendar year, and their 1-0 loss to Iran last month was their first under Alonso.

Players to watch out for

As the inaugural winners of the World Cup and two-time champions, Uruguay has a proud footballing tradition. La Celeste occupies a central place in the nation’s identity, and as is always the case going into a World Cup, fans’ expectations are high.

Suarez believes the raised expectations of the team are down to its young players, who are “playing at the highest level in Europe”.

Rodrigo Bentancur has established himself in Antonio Conte’s Tottenham side, Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo’s emergence over the past year has put veteran Diego Godin’s place under threat and in 24-year-old Fede Valverde, they have one of the most exciting players in the world at the moment.

While the presence of Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez bolsters the attack, the front line continues to be led by the two veteran forwards who’ve been there, done that.

Suarez and Edinson Cavani, both aged 35, have been the protagonists of Uruguay’s success in the past decade, and the World Cup will be their final act.

Between them, they have scored nine of Uruguay’s last 13 World Cup goals. While the hopes of the nation will fall squarely on the pair, it remains to be seen if they are still strong enough to carry them.

World Cup 2022 groups

Source: Al Jazeera