- Capital: Montevideo
- Official Languages: Spanish
- Regional Languages: Uruguayan Portuguese
- Nicknames: La Celeste (The Sky Blue)
- Association: Asociación Uruguaya de Fútbol (AUF)
- FIFA Code: URU
- Best World Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (1930, 1950)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Copa América Result (Men): WINNERS (15 Times)
- Best Copa América Result (Women): Third Place (2006)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 2nd (June 2012)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 55th (September 2008)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 76th (December 1998)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 118th (August 2010)
- Most Capped Player: Diego Godín – 139 caps [as of May 2021]
- Top Scorer: Luis Suárez – 63 goals [as of May 2021]
The Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay) is the smallest country in terms of population, and area, within CONMEBOL. However, despite its small stature, it is regarded as one of the strongest and most successful teams within South America and international football. The country (which gained its independence in 1830 from the Empire of Brazil) is located on the southeastern coast of the continent, sharing a land border with Brazil to its north, and Argentina to its west and southwest – the River Uruguay (from which the country takes its name) acting a border between the two countries before being separated by the Rio de La Plata (the River Plate) with the countries’ respective capitals, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, either side of the estuary. Finally it’s southern and eastern frontier is directly next to the southern Atlantic ocean, which made and continues to make Montevideo an important port for the country.
Just as with other South American countries, it was the British immigrants who brought football to the country with records of the game being played in Uruguay as early as 1881, with some of the earliest clubs established by the British immigrant communities. With football taking a hold in the country, it quickly became the strongest international team within South America, and this was proven in the first editions of the Copa América. La Celeste won the first edition of the continental competition in 1916, and followed it up with a home win in 1917. They would win three of the first four editions of the Copa, and would only suffer their first defeat in the 1921 edition of the competition. The Uruguayans are the most successful nation within the Copa América’s history having won the competition a record 15 times – an incredible achievement for a country of its size. Their latest victory came in 2011 when they defeated Paraguay 3-0 in the final held at Buenos Aires to maintain their dominance of the continental competition.
However, Uruguay’s greatest achievements come in the World Cup. They were considered to be the best side in the world in the 1920s having won the Olympic gold medal in both the 1924 and 1928 tournaments, and were thus one of the favourites for the very first edition of the World Cup in 1930. In addition, they were chosen to be the very first hosts of the competition adding to their favourite tag. The Uruguayans beat all the teams in front of them, and in the final against traditional rivals Argentina, overcame a 1-2 half-time deficit to win 4-2 at the Estadio Centenario to become the very first World Cup winners. They are also the smallest country (in terms of population) to have ever won the World Cup with approximately a population of 1,75 million in 1930.
- 1930 World Cup Final Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gELBavbzWQ
La Celeste refused to travel to Europe for the next two tournaments held in Italy and France respectively meaning they were unable to successfully defend their trophy. It wouldn’t be until 1950 when they were able to compete in the competition once again, and Uruguay would experience success once again. The hosts Brazil were strong favourites to lift the trophy and just needed a point from their final game against the Uruguayans to claim the Jules Rimet Trophy. However Uruguay pulled off one of the biggest and famous shocks in tournament’s history when they came from a goal down to beat the Brazilians 2-1 to snatch the World Cup away from the hosts, in the game which was dubbed the “Maracanazo” and would have profound effects upon Brazilian football. Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia cementing their legendary status by scoring the second-half goals for the visitors and give Uruguay its fourth world title (they consider the two Olympic wins as world titles also hence the four stars in its logo).
Although Uruguay have failed to repeat the magic of 1930 and 1950, they have continued to be a regular presence in subsequent World Cups, finishing in fourth place in both the 1954 and 1970 editions of the tournament. La Celeste has qualified for four of the last five World Cups held with the performance in 2010 being the highlight for the country. Inspired by their new golden generation, they topped their group undefeated ahead of hosts South Africa and defending champions France before beating South Korea and, famously, Ghana (on penalties) in the knockout stage. Sadly their campaign was ended by the Netherlands in the semi-finals, losing 3-2 to the Oranje, and they subsequently lost the 3rd Placed Playoff by the same scoreline to Germany. Regardless, they had achieved their best World Cup finish in 40 years and their striker Diego Forlán won both the top goalscorer and best player award in the tournament. It looked as if they were going to repeat the journey in the 2018 World Cup after winning their group with a 100% record and beating the defending European champions Portugal in the Round of 16. Sadly they were eliminated from the tournament in the quarter-final stage by the eventual winners France, losing 2-0 in Nizhny Novgorod.
Uruguay look set to progress through a transitional period with many of its golden generation of players from the 2010s either retiring and coming to the twilight of their international careers, and a new generation of players progressing to fulfil their spots within the national team. However with Uruguay’s history of continuously and successfully ‘punching above their weight’, and fuelled by their national psyche of ‘garra charrúa’, it would not be surprising to see the new generation of Celeste players continue in the fine tradition of their forebears and bring further glory to the Oriental Republic…
To talk about the two-time World Cup winners and record 15-time Copa América winners who consistently are the gold standard for countries who exceed expections despite seemingly meagre population size, we interviewed the excellent Uruguay Football ENG. The mainly English-language account covers the recent news, as well the history and culture of Uruguayan football. They also have a YouTube channel where they make documentaries on Uruguay’s football history in a number of languages. To find their social media accounts and YouTube channel, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all time, and the reasoning behind the choices?
For the best-ever player, Juan Schiaffino and Pedro Rocha are commonly referred as the most purely talented Uruguayans in history. Schiaffino was instrumental in winning the 1950 World Cup, and Rocha was named by Pelé as one of the top 5 players he has ever seen. He was actually injured in the opening match of the 1970 World Cup, which some feel Uruguay could have won [they finished 4th] had they had their star player. Though, in terms of “best”, as in mentally tough, I think Obdulio Varela [1950 World Cup winner, and 1954 World Cup semi finalist] and Luis Suárez are at the very top of that list.
In terms of manager, I think Óscar Tabárez is the most celebrated of Uruguay’s managers. He won the South American Manager of the Year award twice, won the IFFHS World Manager of the Year in 2011, and has the world record for most international matches managed. He was instrumental in Uruguay’s rise since 2010, won a Copa América [in 2011], took them to a top 4 finish in the 2010 World Cup, 5th place in 2018, and totally revamped the youth program, which has achieved 2 World Cup finals this past decade [the 2011 U17 World Cup and the 2013 U20 World Cup].
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Past – definitely Obdulio Varela, captain of the 1950 World Cup win, and José Nasazzi who captained Uruguay to 3 world titles, including the first World Cup. They’re mentioned almost daily even today.
Present – Luis Suárez and Edison Cavani. That duo has just become iconic in Uruguay. Suarez is the #1 all-time top scorer of the South American World Cup qualifiers, and both are ranked #1 and #2 in Uruguay’s all-time goal scoring chart.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Uruguay currently?
I would say that current best player would be either Edinson Cavani or Luis Suárez [depending on their present form]. But, it feels like Federico Valverde [22-year-old midfielder] of Real Madrid is just about to take the reigns as the star of the team for years to come.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The team is looking good based on the rise of recent young talent and the experience of players like Suárez, Cavani, and Diego Godín to support them. They started the recent World Cup qualifiers relatively well with a historic win away versus Colombia, but it feels like the team is still trying to find itself, while also trying to prepare a new generation of forwards to eventually replace Suárez and Cavani.
Q. Are there any Uruguayan players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are a few players to keep an eye on:
- Darwin Núñez [22-year-old Benfica forward]
- Rodrigo Bentancur [23-year-old Juventus midfielder]
- Federico Valverde [Real Madrid midfielder]
- Facundo Torres [21-year-old Peñarol forward]
- Ronald Araújo [22-year-old Barcelona centre-back]
- Agustín Álvarez Martínez [20-year-old Peñarol forward]
- Matías Viña [23-year-old Palmeiras left-back]
Q. Looking at Uruguay’s long and successful international history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Historically, most people usually point to the 1950 World Cup final versus Brazil as the peak moment in Uruguay’s history. To beat one of the best Brazil teams of all time, in front of over 200,000 home fans is very difficult to match. It has inspired Uruguay’s entire football culture to this very day. Players legitimately think of that match as inspiration.
- 1950 World Cup Final Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu1WanatiAM
Another result that had a huge impact for people is the 1954 World Cup semi final versus Hungary. Even though Uruguay lost 4-2, the way they fought tooth and nail to match what was considered an unbeatable team solidified Uruguay’s self perception as “big game” team.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
There are 3 in my opinion: Uruguay losing 2-0 to Netherlands in 1974 was a historic blow due to the way it happened [they were totally outclassed]. That loss was a hard reminder of Uruguay’s limitations in terms of population and resources. Second is the 6-1 loss to Denmark at the 1986 World Cup, which was devastating. Also, losing to Australia on penalties in the 2006 World Cup qualifying playoff was very painful, so much so that it directly led to the arrival of Tabárez with his paradigm shift.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Uruguayan national team?
I would say both the best and worst things are the suffering fans go through in most matches. Much like how Atlético Madrid just won La Liga, Uruguay has that similar style of play in their DNA. The way Uruguay plays in general [very combative, defensive style] makes matches very exciting, but also very tense and nerve wracking. So, win or lose, the matches are nearly always nail biters with Uruguay rarely getting comfortable wins. But, there is no better feeling than winning these types of games.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Yes, there are a few.
“So Celeste” – which is “I am Sky Blue”
“Volveremos a ser campeones como la primera vez” – which means “We will be champions like the first time” [this song is interchangeably used to reference that Uruguay won the 1st Copa América or 1st World Cup]
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Yes, personally it is the 2010 World Cup jersey. I thought it was a very classy, and unique design.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Uruguayan national team?
Well, Uruguay’s entire football culture is centred around the idea of winning the World Cup again. This is the case for many reasons, most notably due to Uruguay’s close history with the tournament, dating back to hosting the inaugural one in 1930, so it’s always the main inspiration.
Having said that, recent positive results have strengthened Uruguay’s resolve that this can be possible. They had a decent chance to win the last 3 editions of the World Cup [ending 4th, and 5th in 2010, and 2018, respectively], and Uruguayans generally think that they could have won the 2014 World Cup had Suarez not been banned.
The current team is benefitting from Tabárez’s excellent youth program, and has already seen the rise of many good players like Valverde and Araújo. I suppose the immediate hope is to qualify first, while also have a positive Copa América this summer [meaning top 4 as a minimum]. There was a prevailing feeling that Uruguay underperformed in the 2019 edition, so there is hope that they may actually win the upcoming tournament.
A massive muchas gracias to Uruguay Football ENG for answering our questions on La Celeste. Remember you can find their social media accounts and YouTube channel in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.