ANALYSIS - Rupert Fryer
|Coach: Oscar Tabarez|
Oscar Washington Tabarez is one of the true greats of international football. For the dozens who to have been anointed the nickname, few are as deserving of their ‘el maestro’ tag than the 71-year-old former schoolteacher.
After leading his country to the Round of 16 at Italia 90, the former Boca Juniors and Milan coach returned for his second stint in charge in 2006 and has remained ever since, battling his recent ill health to continue Uruguay’s great tradition as the greatest overachievers in the history of world sports. He took Uruguay to the semi-finals at World Cup 2010 and followed it up by lifting the Copa America a year later. A Round of 16 appearance in at World Cup 2014 was followed by a quarter-final berth in Russia this year.
|Rising star: Rodrigo Bentancur|
For almost a decade of Tabarez’s current reign, the one thing his sides lacked was creativity in the central midfield zones. From Nicolas Lodeiro to Gaston Ramirez, time and again the bright young things tipped to provide the missing ingredient went on only to disappoint. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a generational quirk.
Matias Vecino, Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Lucas Torreira all appeared at once, alongside perhaps the most gifted of the lot, Rodrigo Bentancur. Instantly tipped for the top after rising through the ranks at Boca Juniors in Argentina, the tall, elegant midfield schemer repeatedly impressed in Buenos Aires while also never quite dominating matches in the way many had hoped he would. But Juventus had seen more than enough, and snapped him up for a relative pittance. Now a regular at one of Europe’s leading clubs, the 21-year-old combines Uruguayan grit with Uruguayan grace and is certainly one to keep an eye on at the Emirates.
|One to watch: Lucas Torreira|
“If Torreira were 1.8 metres tall, he would already cost €100 million and would be considered among the strongest playmakers in the world,” Sampdoria coach Marco Giampaolo told Corriere dello Sport last year . “He can play it short or long, wins the ball back, restarts play and always seems to know where the ball will be. He’ll go to a big club that does not care so much about his stature.”
The 22-year-old has done exactly that since making a high-profile switch to Arsenal this past summer. After being eased into the team by new coach Unai Emery, he is fast-becoming possibly the Gunners’ most important player, providing both grit and guile in a deep-lying central midfield role. He will be vital to Uruguay’s chances of a good result on Friday and looks set to be a fixture of this Uruguay side for many years to come.
|The view from Uruguay|
Daniel Edwards - Goal.com South America expert
The Celeste's fortunes have been mixed since the exhilaration and ultimate disappointment of their journey to the 2018 World Cup quarter-final. A commanding 4-1 win over Mexico was followed in October by back-to-back defeats to South Korea and Japan in a mini Asian tour, leaving more questions than answers for veteran coach Oscar Tabarez as he continues preparations for next year's Copa America.
Tabarez welcomes back Luis Suarez against Brazil, but the big concern for Uruguay is at the back. Shorn of formidable Atletico Madrid pair Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, the country have called up five defenders with just two caps between them, alongside the slightly more experienced Diego Laxalt and old hand Martin Caceres.
The onus, then, will be on centre-midfield duo Lucas Torreira and Rodrigo Bentancur, both of whom are in scintillating form, to protect the backline and keep Brazil's stars quiet. Nahitan Nandez, excused from international duty due to his Copa Libertadores duties with Boca Juniors, is another sensitive absence, but the Celeste will nevertheless be hoping their young guns can channel Uruguay's traditional warrior spirit and hold their own against more experienced opposition.