Uruguay – the most successful country in the world at football?

By - 03 August, 2011

They are the smallest nation to ever win the World Cup. And they’ve done it twice! They also boast the record for most Copa America wins (15 in total!) If you treat all international tournaments equally they are the most successful country ever. We are of course talking about Uruguay.

The country hosted the first ever World Cup back in 1930 and promptly marched to victory to lay claim to the title of first ever World Champions. In Europe this victory is often downplayed. Many European nations didn’t travel for various reasons creating a perception of a hollow victory.

Yet prior to the tournament Uruguay had won back-to-back Olympic gold medals, one of the reasons they were chosen as hosts in the first place. Uruguay dominated international football during the 30s and should be given their due recognition as an early power-house of the game.

The World Cup and politics have been intertwined since the beginning; recent controversies of 2018 are nothing new. After the lack of European representation at their event the Uruguayans refused to travel to Italy in 1934, and then after the reversal of a promise to alternate the tournament between South America and Europe, again refused to travel to France in 1938.

Italy 1934 remains the only tournament in which the reigning champions didn’t take part. Its sad that the team was denied the opportunity to really make their mark, as victory in Europe (the location of both their previous Olympic triumphs) would have seen them gain the kudos they deserve.

1930 was not their high water mark, in 1950 they defeated hosts Brazil at the iconic Maracana Stadium. In the league set-up used at the time Brazil needed only to avoid defeat, while Uruguay needed the win. Coming from behind they claimed the trophy with a 2-1 victory after Alcides Ghiggia scored 11 minutes from time in front of 170,000 people.

The game became known as ‘Maracanazo’ (the Maracana Blow) and has entered Brazilian folklore as their biggest World Cup shock, if not one of the biggest shocks in any walk of life!

Along with the inaugural World Cup, all 7 Copa Americas held in Uruguay have been won by the hosts, accounting for half their tally. And in 1980 the Mondialito, a tournament featuring World Cup winners (with the Netherlands featuring in place of England) to commemorate 50 years of World Cups was again hosted and won by the Uruguayans.

Because they are such a small country consistency at the world level has proved just out of reach and there have been many World Cups ‘La Celeste’ have been unable to grace. But South Africa 2010 was not one of them.

Led by star player Diego Forlan the team reached the semi-finals with Forlan receiving the Golden Ball for the best player but despite tying at the top of the scoring charts with 5 goals, missed out on the Golden Boot due to Thomas Muller notching up a few more assists.

A hard-working well-organised team, Uruguay had two outstanding footballers up front. One was the aforementioned Mr Forlan the other was international football’s newest pantomime villain Luis Suarez.

A man of undoubted natural talents, he is part of a select group of players who have scored a 100 goals for Ajax which includes Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, and Dennis Bergkamp.

But he will be remembered for his deliberate hand ball which denied Ghana a winning goal in the dying seconds of the Quarter Finals in Africa’s first World Cup. Suarez received a red card and the resulting penalty was missed, as he was filmed celebrating in the tunnel.

For the romantics around the world it was a great story taken away by an act of cowardice. But in Uruguay, he is regarded as a little bit of a hero, he did whatever he could do to help them win the game, and in a penalty shoot out, they did.

The incident sparked some debate about ethics on the field and the ultimate futile discussion as to whether or not he should be allowed to play in the final if they reached it.

At the time of writing Luis Suarez is currently banned for 7 games in Holland after biting an opponent on the shoulder following and alteration.

The next World Cup is due to be held in Brazil in 2014. After an impressive showing in South Africa, and the country’s record in tournaments held in that little corner of the world they might be hopeful of a strong showing next time around. And with odds currently at 50/1, they might be worth a peso or two.

Update: as of July 24th 2011 Uruguay are the most celebrated team in Copa America history with 15 wins to Argentina’s 14 and Brazil’s 8.

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