The Celeste will meet the hosts in Group A of the international tournament, and memories of two glorious triumphs will be the motivation for Oscar Tabarez's in-form teamCOMMENT
By Daniel Edwards | South American Football Editor
Walking around the Uruguayan Football Association's beautifully maintained, fascinating museum in the Estadio Centenario, a curious phenomenon comes to attention. The nation's two World Cup victories, in 1930 and 1950, are showcased in two glorious exhibits telling the story of the Celeste double triumph. But they are far from the star attraction in Montevideo's showpiece stadium.
That honour is instead bestowed on back-to-back Olympic gold medals taken home in 1924 and 1928 by a Uruguay side still in its infancy, a celebration of the team which conquered Europe in a time where South American football was still more or less a mystery back in the old continent. Two of the stands in the Centenario, the Amsterdam and Colombes, also pay homage to those teams; little surprise when one considers the impact that those teams had on the sport.
Given that those two tournaments were the only Olympics officially sanctioned as Fifa World Championships, the Uruguayan people proudly present them as equivalent to the World Cups lifted later in their history, and for European audiences as well the teams that claimed gold were truly revolutionary. In 1924, the South Americans' emphasis on short passing and movement made a welcome contrast to the kick and rush, physical play on view over the Atlantic. As did the integrationist spirit that allowed players of African descent to pull on the Celeste in France and Netherlands, some 50 years before Viv Anderson broke the colour barrier for England.
Those triumphs also introduced a new word into the Spanish language football lexicon. The Vuelta Olimpica (Olympic lap) emerged to mark the Charrua's lap of honour round the Colombes pitch following victory over Switzerland in the 1924 gold medal match; and 2012's hopefuls will be hoping to do their own vuelta around Wembley after getting pasts hosts Great Britain in the London group stages.
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The South Americans, who along with Brazil are the only representatives from the continent after 2004 and 2008 winners Argentina failed to qualify, will not have an easy road to the final match. As well as the host nation, appearing for the first time in the Olympic football tournament since the competition allowed professional players to compete, the United Arab Emirates and Senegal stand in Uruguay's way in Group A. If the group stage is successfully negotiated, meanwhile, ties against junior World Cup holders Brazil and European champions Spain loom large. The good news for Uruguayan fans dreaming of a third gold, however, is that the young stars are there to go all the way.
At this stage a certain amount of guesswork is necessary when predicting the final squad for London, to be gleaned from a shortlist of no less than 73 Under-23 and over-age players called up in March. First indications suggest that deadly strike duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will fill two of the latter spots, while the third and final position appears to be a straight fight between inspirational forward Diego Forlan and undisputed first choice in goal, Fernando Muslera.
Amongst the young stars, one can also point to several names that should be guaranteed a place amongst the 18 who make the final cut. Sebastian Coates has a golden chance in the absence of Diego Lugano and Diego Godin to prove that he can be a worthy successor to the grizzled pair, who have been key in the Uruguayan renaissance of the last few years. Alongside him, the elegant, attack-minded Bari starlet Diego Polenta will hope to show the same form he demonstrated in Peru during the last U20 South American Championships.
Palermo star Abel Hernandez has seen his chances at international level strongly restricted by the trident of attacking talent mentioned above, but at 21-years-old he represents the future of the Celeste offence and will be desperate to start alongside Suarez and Cavani. Staying in Italy, Bologna talent Gaston Ramirez has gained plaudits across Europe for his accomplished performances for the Serie A side. The versatile midfielder is keen to make the move to a more illustrious institution, and in London he will have the perfect outlet to show off his abilities to the world.
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The scourge of English commentators, meanwhile, will be Jonathan Urretaviscaya. The Benfica youngster was excellent on loan for Penarol during their march to the 2011 Copa Libertadores final, and blessed with blistering speed on the right wing, he will hope to do for the Charrua exactly what Alvaro Pereira does so brilliantly on the opposite flank for Forlan & Co.
This quintet of young talent is merely skimming the barrel of what Uruguay can offer the London Olympics, and all five should be key components of the side which will try and repeat last year's Copa America triumph on British soil in July and August.
Uruguayan football history throws up an intriguing mix of glory and underachievement, of spectacular history mixed with a bitter and underwhelming present. Eduardo Galeano, one of the most eminent and well-regarded authors in contemporary Latin American literature - and, of course, a fervent supporter of his beloved Uruguay football team - perhaps sums up best the Charrua condition:
"If we could learn from that glorious past, we would be great, but no: we shelter in nostalgia when we feel that hope has abandoned us, because hope demands audacity and nostalgia asks nothing of us."
As Oscar Tabarez finalises his squad to face Great Britain in the Olympics, he and all his players must play in the memory of those great gold medal teams of the past; but most importantly, the Celeste must not be swept up in a melancholic nostalgia which blinds their path. Boasting the strongest team in a generation, Cavani, Suarez, Coates and the rest have the responsibility to do those men justice and write their own glorious chapter in the Uruguay Olympic story.