WORLD CUP JUNE 26, 2010
Let us now praise Uruguay. The Little Country That Did is deservedly back on the world stage and it's splendid to see. In a sense Uruguay are close to the platonic ideal for a heart-warming World Cup story: a tiny country of just 3.5 million souls who, once aristocrats of the game, subsequently fell on hard times but who now find themselves back in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1970. That is, Uruguay has the history and the underdog status that makes their revival immensely satisfying.
They may have been the last side to make it to South Africa and they may have benefited from a good draw but they fully deserve their place in the last eight. Nor is this necessarily a flash in the pan performance. There are signs that Uruguayan football is on the up and up: Nacional reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores last year, the best performance by a Uruguayan club in 20 years. Meanwhile, La Celeste reached the Round of 16 in last year's Under-20 World Cup and the last eight in the Under-17 version.
And Oscar Tabarez - whose success demonstrates the value of managerial experience - has brought a young squad to South Africa. Fully half the players are 25 or under, including Suarez (23) and his Ajax team-mate Lodeiro (21). The years ahead should be good ones for Uruguay. Tabarez has built a proper football team too: solid at the back, capable of switching tempo and, with Forlan and Suarez, a brace of genuine goal-scorers whose movement off the ball has confounded every opponent thus far. Tough yet supple might be the way to describe it. This ain't the thuggish 1986 side, even if they're not the 1950 or 1954* team either.
Suarez - cocky and full of gamesmanship - is a real striker, forever drifting a yard to two off his marker and generally being a pest. Six shots against South Korea, five of them on target and two goals says it all. The second, rightly, has received the plaudits but the first was, in its way, almost as good: tight angle, running on to the ball, meeting it first time and rifling it into the net. Many forwards in this tournament might have missed that chance.
Anyway, who can fail to be pleased by this resurrection? A Tiny Giant is an oxymoronic construction that, nevertheless, fits the boys from Montevideo. May they continue to punch above their weight.
*We thought we'd turn up to our first World Cup and show the rest of the world what they'd been missing. It didn't take too long for that to unravel: Uruguay 7 Scotland 0. A result that was our version of Hungary's visit to Wembley in 1953. Now, however, perhaps Uruguay show us that it's not impossible to return to the top table...