Whenever referencing the World Cup’s history, Uruguay is always mentioned. They’re the first hosts and champions of the tournament way back in 1930.
Twenty years later, La Celeste upset Brazil at the Maracana to claim their second title thanks to Alcides Ghiggia’s goal from a tight angle to win it late. To this day, it’s still the highest attended football match when nearly 200,000 watched the game live in Rio De Janeiro.
Uruguay has traditionally overachieved. There were under two million people living in the country when they won their first World Cup. As of 2011, the population is just under four million, which means they’re the smallest nation to be crowned champions.
After their two successes, Los Charruas struggled slightly thanks to the rise of another South American power in Brazil. In 1954, the Uruguayans finished fourth thanks to an extra time loss to Hungary, who were the dominant country in football at that time.
Following their absence from the 1958 edition, Uruguay failed to make it out of the group stage in 1962 before qualifying for the quarter-finals in England. The South Americans were crushed 4-0 by West Germany, which essentially signaled the end of their consistency, even with another fourth place finish in Mexico.
In 1974, Uruguay once again flopped in the group stage and failed to qualify for the World Cup twice in a row. It was the first time since 1934 and 1938 that La Celeste didn’t take part in back-to-back tournaments. They made amends with two consecutive appearances in the knockout stage, but supporters were clambering for more.
It’s odd to hear from a country that has produced a couple of golden generation when competing against other teams with tens, sometimes hundreds, of millions to choose from. Thankfully for the sanity of the fans, they got their wish shortly thereafter.
The 1994 and 1998 World Cups were two more failures as the Uruguayans didn’t qualify again, but 2002 was the start of another booming era. Diego Perez and Diego Forlan earned their first caps either prior to or during the South Korea/Japan hosted tournament, but it didn’t end there.
Diego Godin, Diego Lugano, Maxi Pereira and Cristian Rodriguez eventually became four of the most capped Uruguayan players of all time. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani completed the “three-headed monster” along with Forlan which eventually did serious damage in 2010.
That was their coming out party. Spearheaded by those three attackers in Cavani, Forlan and Suarez, they scored nine goals on route to an undefeated group stage as Uruguay won Group A with seven points.
Following a late 2-1 victory over South Korea in the Round of 16, La Celeste needed penalties in order to make the semi-finals. Suarez’s blatant hand ball against Ghana was almost their undoing, but Asamoah Gyan’s missed spot kick gave the Uruguayans a shot, which they took advantage of.
A tough 3-2 loss to The Netherlands ended the fairytale run, but that proved that the first ever champions should never be underestimated.
Even without the joint-top scorer in Forlan, Uruguay will be looking to make an impact in their home continent against two of Europe’s powers and a CONCACAF representative that’ll be trying to prove doubters wrong, the same objective that the diminutive nation has.