Uruguay looking to rejoin soccer's elite
After 40 years of mediocrity, La Celeste on the verge of greatness
Argentina and Brazil are the undisputed kings of South American soccer, but it's easy to forget that Uruguay was once the pride of the continent.
La Celeste won the inaugural World Cup on home soil in 1930 and took the crown a second time by upsetting Brazil in Rio's legendary Maracana Stadium 20 years later.
But Uruguay eventually lost its way, qualifying for only five of the last 10 World Cups and advancing past the second round just once, when it made it to the semifinals in 1970.
Uruguayan pride has been restored in South Africa after the South Americans won their opening-round group and then dispatched South Korea in the Round of 16.
The past looms large over this team. As the original World Cup champion, Uruguay is both blessed and cursed by its history — loyal fans are proud of the team's accomplishments, but also demand a level of success that befits a side that has won the tournament twice.
A victory against Ghana on Friday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET) would send Uruguay to the semifinals for the first time in four decades, rekindling hope and the spirit of glory days gone by.
But coach Oscar Tabarez isn't the least bit interested in history — his lone concern is the present.
"If I think about, I will become overwhelmed and I don't want to think about it. We can't lose our concentration," Tabarez told a news conference on Thursday.
"We have to focus on [Ghana] and the present and we can think about history later."
And you can forget about Tabarez using the 1950 victory over Brazil as a motivational tool to inspire his players.
"Let's not talk about Maracana. It's history," the Uruguay coach replied when asked about it by a Brazilian journalist.
Still, there's no denying that a win over Ghana would bring Uruguay out from underneath the massive shadows cast by Argentina and Brazil, and put it squarely in the spotlight once again.
"The performance of Uruguay has returned the country to the world stage," Pablo Gobba, a journalist with Uruguayan newspaper Ultimas Noticias, told CBCSports.ca.
"Even if they loose to Ghana, this World Cup has been great for Uruguayan football and hopefully it will rejuvenate the team to the point where it will be on par with Brazil and Argentina."
Uruguay's amazing run in South Africa is a product of teamwork. From the back to the front, this is a well-balanced side.
Diego Lugano has anchored a stingy back line that has been breached just once in four games, Diego Perez has been a bulwark in midfield, and strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have combined for five goals.
"The key has been the focus of the players. The team has been very focused on each game, instead of looking ahead," said Gobba. "The defence is strong and solid, the midfield is filled with fighters and Forlan and Suarez have been great."
Forlan and Suarez have formed one of the deadliest duos at this tournament, and it's little surprise that they are earning the majority of the headlines from the Uruguayan press.
But Tabarez maintains they are no more important to the Uruguayan cause in South Africa than any other player.
"The have shown very good potential, but they carry no special responsibility within the team," Taberez said of his strikers.
"We want them to give their best, of course. We have prepared well but we are not giving any particular player any special responsibility if we want to make our dreams come true."