By Daniel Edwards in Buenos Aires
In a Copa America where consistency has proven more important than individual flash and brilliance, it is perhaps fitting that Uruguay find themselves fighting for the title in Sunday’s final. The archetypal collective unit, the Celeste do not boast the mercurial talent of a Lionel Messi, or an Alexis Sanchez. What they do have, however, is an unmatched team spirit compared to their South American neighbours, and this is what makes them currently the best side on the continent.
While it is by no means a surprise to see Oscar Tabarez’s team in the Monumental showpiece, they were shamefully neglected by local press in the run-up to the tournament. Media in Argentina and Brazil were seduced by the world class names in each side and took glee in naming each other favourites. It was a huge disservice to both the World Cup semi-finalists and Sunday’s opponents Paraguay, and looking at the Charrua line-up, way off the mark.
The team does not exactly set the heart racing with talent, but across the pitch it is difficult to see a single weakness. The Argentine defence, in particular, would kill to have stoppers of the calibre of Diego Lugano and Sebastian Coates, for example. The old warhorse and the fresh-faced prospect have formed a formidable duo together, proving almost impenetrable, while the Albiceleste and Brazil have struggled to make their back lines coherent and effective.
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Further up the pitch, the team continues to impress. Alvaro Pereira has been outstanding across the competition, while Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez need no introduction. Edinson Cavani has been unfit for much of the Copa, but could well make an appearance in the final to give even more potency to the forward line. Added to this mix is the best coach in South America, ‘El Maestro’, Oscar Tabarez. The longest-serving trainer of any Conmebol team, the 64-year-old tactician has seen everything in his career and is more responsible than most for Uruguay’s rejuvenation following the disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign for Germany 2006.
Softly-spoken, modest and intelligent, Tabarez instantly symbolises the underrated efficiency of this close-knit unit; the one side always available for fans, always happy to speak to the media and who value openness and intimacy over the fabricated mystique attempted by their more illustrious neighbours.
In a way, this underestimation of the Uruguayan team is indicative of their position in South America. Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, citizens have been the butt of Porteno (Buenos Aires native) jokes almost since they gained independence back in 1828 from their neighbours to the south.
Argentines delight in calling the little republic “one more of our provinces”, but the difference in culture could not be more marked. Even in capital city Montevideo the people appear less hurried, more friendly and with less need to be heard than across the Rio de la Plata. This understated confidence can be seen from miles away whenever Lugano’s team take the field.
World Cup surprises and possible new kings of South America, it should be taken now as a given that Uruguay rule the roost locally - even though, inevitably, Argentina and Brazil will continue to take up the column inches in the world press as they continue their rebuilding. There is, however, one more fascinating aspect to Sunday’s clash that cannot be ignored.
|'World Cup surprises and possible new kings of South America, it should be taken now as a given that Uruguay rule the roost locally.'|
As fate would have it, that 1987 triumph was also secured on Argentine soil - a 1-0 win over Chile in the Monumental, thanks to a strike from former Sevilla midfielder Pablo Bengoechea. Already the strongest team in South America as we approach the end of 2011, the Celeste have all the tools to crown themselves the most successful national side of all time with victory on Sunday.