Famous Uruguayan Footballers: Uruguay’s National Football. Uruguay’s National Soccer Team.
Football (fútbol) is one of the most popular recreational sports in Uruguay. As a football-loving nation, Uruguay has produced some of the soccer greats that have been known the world over for their skills and individual contribution to the sport. Some of these names have become synonymous with soccer itself.
:: Uruguay’s National Football Team
The year was 1930. It was the inaugural world championship for men’s national soccer teams for the FIFA World Cup. There were a total of 13 teams representing their respective country – two were from North America, four were from Europe and seven football teams were from South America. In the semi-finals, the teams in the contest are United States, Yugoslavia, Uruguay and their eventual arch rival Argentina. In front of 93,000 screaming spectators gathered in the Estadio Centenario, especially built for the tournament, Uruguay bested Argentina with a score of 4 – 2 to become the first country to win the World Cup.
Uruguay was selected to host the inaugural tournament, besting Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden because Uruguay was then the current Olympic champions and the country also planned to build a new stadium for the world event. Uruguay, already a rich nation, offered to refund all the expenses of participants. It will take another 20 years before Uruguay was able to win the World Cup once again.
For a bit of history, Uruguay has a land area of about 176,000 square kilometers and a population of less than 3.5 million. Uruguay is a dwarf compared to its neighboring South American nations. Despite this or maybe because of it, Uruguay has risen to become one of the biggest successes in the world of football.
In September 1891, British railway workers founded the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club, a group dedicated to playing cricket and football. Because the name is hard to pronounce among the Spanish-speaking populations, it was informally called “Peñarol” in honor of the town where it was formed. The influx of migrant workers at the turn of the century brought about the formation of other clubs such as Nacional, Liverpool, and Wanderers. These migrant workers came from all over Europe and this very variety was responsible for the formation of Uruguay, as well as some South American countries’ unique style of football, characterized by short passes, dynamic player movement and play of attack.
By 1916, the Uruguay national football team or La Celeste (the sky blue one) won the first Copa America (then called the South American Championship) and dominated the Cup five times before they joined the Olympics. In 1924, the Uruguay national football team crossed the Atlantic and competed in Paris, the first South American team to join the Olympics, and claimed the Olympic gold. In 1928, the national soccer team defended their title in the Olympics and won their second Olympic gold. Fresh from their double triumph in the Olympics, Uruguay hosted the first World Cup in the midst of its centenary celebrations in 1930. The national soccer team eventually came out on top, thrashing arch rival Argentina in the finals, 4 – 2.
For the next few World Cups, Uruguay declined to enter because some European teams did not participate in the 1930 World Cup. Uruguay became the first and only country to decline defending their soccer championship title. In 1950, Uruguay joined the World Cup again. This time they joined not as the champion team that they once were but as the underdog. In the 1950 World Cup, several people had expected Brazil to win. Not only was the Brazilian team an attack force to reckon with, the World Cup was held in the Maracana stadium in Brazil giving them the home court advantage. In what was touted as one of the biggest upsets in the world, Uruguay managed to defeat the Brazilians. Such was the surprise at Uruguay’s win that several reports of Brazilians being treated for shock had surfaced. Meanwhile, in Uruguay, the government declared a public holiday and the partying had begun. It was reported that three people had died of heart attacks while listening to the broadcast on the radio. An additional five people died during the festivities. As for the winning team, they were treated as national heroes.
After the 1950 World Cup high, Uruguay never did seem to get into their fútbol-winning spirit again. The succeeding years were a disappointment to most fans and players as Uruguay started to slip in the football rankings. At one point, the former champions even slipped down to rank 54th in the FIFA rankings.
However, in 2010, Uruguay seemed suffused with a new hunger for the win. The current generation managed to bag the 2011 Copa America win and established the Uruguay national football team as the most successful team in South America with a record fifteen Copa America titles.