By Daniel Edwards | South American Football Editor
In terms of the Olympic Games, no other nation can touch Uruguay when it comes to guaranteeing success in the football competition; the South American giants have won every time they have competed in the finals. But while those successes may have come in the sepia-tinted years of 1924 and 1928, it leaves Oscar Tabarez's men with an impeccable record to uphold in this most prestigious of events.
From what the British public have seen in 2012, however, chances of a third gold medal are looking increasingly remote. The Copa America holders went down 2-0 to Senegal on Sunday to leave their hopes hanging by a thread, and only a win against the hosts on Wednesday will be good enough to avoid an ignominious early exit from Group A.
The Celeste were tipped by many, this writer included, as serious candidates for the title prior to the competition, but their two outings so far have given little encouragement. The team spluttered to a comeback 2-1 victory over the United Arab Emirates in the opener - saved by a magical free kick from Gaston Ramirez - before capitulating against the Lions of Teranga in a result which leaves them third in the group and on the brink of elimination.
An unconvincing defence, a lack of coherence and patience in midfield, imprecision in the final third. All have attributed to their woes, but none more so than the failure of star strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez to rise to the occasion.
Fruitless Endeavour | Suarez could not find a way through the Senegal backline
Tabarez did take a risk before the tournament in including the pair as two-thirds of his overage contingent, but it was a calculated one from 'El Maestro'. The wily coach bet on the Napoli and Liverpool men overwhelming opposition with the sort of form that has made them two of the most sought-after and prolific forwards in world football. As such, this attacking power would excuse the inexperience at the back, which was somewhat inevitable after leaving captain Diego Lugano and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera at home, while giving Ramirez the chance to stake his claim as the natural successor to Diego Forlan as No.10 by offering him two worthy recipients of his creative potential.
'God laughs at those who make plans'. Both strikers have been guilty of two insipid performances so far, failing to hit the net in 180 minutes. In that same period, Nicolas Lodeiro's goal stands as the only strike Uruguay have recorded from open play. Coming from a pair that between them boast a strike rate of almost a goal every two international matches, it is simply not good enough for forwards of their ability and standing.
|THE GOAL.COM VERDICT VS. SENEGAL
|"The Napoli forward's poor form throughout the tournament continued as he pulled his effort miles wide, with Suarez well placed further inside and begging for the ball to be played in to him."|
|"Suarez, who was enduring a bad afternoon at the office, nodded narrowly wide with the goal gaping after peeling off his marker at the back post."|
To be fair, at times they have been poorly served by those behind them. The excellent Ramirez apart, the Uruguay midfield has generally been too content to pump the ball long instead of looking to unlock their rivals on the floor, meaning that service has been sloppy. But when the chances have arrived, neither Cavani nor Suarez have been incisive and ruthless enough to feed off the scraps and find the net when it really counts.
Chances that you would bet your life on the two converting in club colours, during the World Cup or Copa America, have been squandered, leaving the Celeste in serious danger of leaving the Olympic Games empty-handed for the first time.
There will be no margin for error against a Great Britain team who, while lacking experience, can still count on the defensive talents of Micah Richards and young promises Stephen Caulker and Neil Taylor. Stuart Pearce's men know that a draw will be enough to take them into the next round, and the hosts will also enjoy overwhelming support from a British audience that has given Uruguay, and Suarez in particular, a fierce reception so far in the Games.
Good players do not become bad players in the space of four days. Cavani and Suarez deserve to be mentioned among the planet's premier forward talents, no matter what happens at the Millennium Stadium. But for a Uruguayan faithful desperate to write a new chapter in their dazzling Olympic story, it is time for their misfiring maestros to show them why the famously cautious Tabarez put his faith in their twin striking talents, and find their true form before a humiliatingly premature trip back across the Atlantic becomes a reality.