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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


Interview: Uruguay Coach Oscar Tabarez On World Cup, Luis Suarez and Maracanazo

Since Oscar Washington Tabarez was appointed Uruguay coach in 2006, the glory days have returned for La Celeste. In 2010 they finished fourth at the World Cup, their best result since 1970. One year later, Uruguay won the Copa America for the first time in 16 years and broke the record for the most successful team in South America. In 2013 they grabbed another fourth place, this time at the Confederations Cup. Now, boasting talents such as Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani at the peak of their powers, the question is being asked: Are Uruguay ready to once again win the World Cup? “Impossible doesn’t exist in football”, Tabarez told Inside Futbol.

“However, if teams like Spain and Germany won the most recent international tournaments, at every level, I suppose they have to be considered amongst the favourites; alongside Brazil of course. Uruguay is a small country, we are not a football powerhouse. But this gives us strength and extra motivation, especially when we are facing European teams, the most difficult to beat for us. If we qualify for the next round, we will get stronger.”

European teams such as Uruguay’s World Cup group companions Italy and England are worried about the climate in Brazil. “That could become a key factor”, admits Tabarez. “From our point of view the climate conditions are often similar to those of Uruguay, as we saw in the last Confederations Cup. We regularly play in South America and have experienced all kinds of weather. After the heat we suffered in Colombia, nothing can worry us anymore. I am glad there is not a high-altitude city like La Paz though. I think that in some places the weather can play against Europeans, rather than Asians or Africans. And of course, the South Americans. If any of us, including Chile or Ecuador, can reach the semi-finals, then we could win the World Cup.”

But which will be Uruguay’s crucial game in the group stage? The clash against England or against Italy? “At the moment, it’s impossible to tell”, Tabarez tells us. “History has taught us that in a World Cup the line between glory and failure is very thin. Look at what happened in 2010, when Italy and France, the finalists of 2006, were both eliminated in the first round. Both Italy and England are teams with world-class players. Roy Hodgson and Cesare Prandelli’s men play in the same league and this is an advantage. It’s easier to organise a training camp when all the players end the season at the same time. You can start to work with the whole group earlier.”

Oscar Tabarez vs Roy Hodgson stirs memories of a past Milan derby. “Yes, it is a nice coincidence”, admits the Uruguayan boss. “Hodgson was Inter coach when I faced him with Milan in 1996. That derby ended in a draw. I consider Mister Hodgson a nice person and a great gentleman. In Sao Paulo it will be a historic game.”

One criticism of Tabarez’s Uruguay is that the squad contains too many old players. “I cannot say Uruguay are a team full of youngsters, but I prefer to see this matter from a different side”, the coach explained. “The majority of my players have the experience of having been part of the team that reached the last four in South Africa in 2010 and that also won the Copa America in Argentina in 2011. That means theoretically we have more experience and potential. Before the World Cup in South Africa, only a few players like Diego Forlan, Sebastian Abreu and Diego Lugano had experienced top level football. Now our squad is full of players who have fought for titles in Spain, Portugal, France and England.”

Luis Suarez arrives in Brazil on the back of his best season ever. How does Tabarez see the Liverpool talisman? “There is a big difference between the current Luis Suarez and the youngster who impressed at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup”, the Uruguay boss said, in a matter-of-fact way. “Making the difference when you are 18 and playing against opponents of the same age is not the same as making it while you are growing up and facing more difficult stages like playing in Holland or in England. Suarez passed all those tests and now he is a key player for his team.”

And Tabarez explained he always believed Suarez would succeed, even from his Uruguay debut. “I remember him in his first game with Uruguay; he was still playing with Nacional Montevideo, made a lot of mistakes in front of goal and people booed him. However, I always saw in him something those who criticised him didn’t: He had no fear of his opponent and always tried to pass him and go straight to the goal. The same as he does today. Personality and a strong character have done the rest. Suarez is at the age of maximum output for an outfield player.”

Tabarez doesn’t like to hear too much about the Maracanazo, the 1950 World Cup final in Brazil that saw La Celeste surprisingly defeat the hosts. “The Maracanazo has been a blessing and a curse for us”, he mused. “The new generation has always received a subliminal message that the champions were [Juan Alberto] Schiaffino, [Alcides] Ghiggia and [Obdulio] Varela, and that nothing or nobody could have ever equalled that feat. I prefer to focus on what is to come and not talk about it anymore.”


Published: Tuesday, 10th Jun 2014