World Cup 2018 team preview: Uruguay's youth, mainstays make it dangerous

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Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group A is Uruguay.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

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Outlook

Odds to win Group A: 50%
Odds to advance: 81%
Odds to win World Cup: 2.9%
Elo rank: 13
Yahoo Sports power rank: 9

Our writers say: With all-world strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani leading the line, Uruguay – which lost in the Round of 16 four years ago after reaching the semis in 2010 – could be poised for another deep run. But only if Suarez can keep his teeth to himself. Doug McIntyre

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will lead the Uruguay line at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. (Getty)
Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will lead the Uruguay line at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 13th
Best World Cup finish: Champion (1930, 1950)
2014 finish: Lost to Colombia in the round of 16
Qualifying: 2nd in South America
Schedule: Egypt (Friday, June 15, 8 a.m. FS1), Saudi Arabia (Wednesday, June 20, 11 a.m., Fox), Russia (Monday, June 25, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group A preview]

Squad

Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Captain: Diego Godin (D)
Top players: Luis Suarez (F), Edinson Cavani (F), Godin, Matias Vecino (M), Jose Maria Gimenez (D)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: The blend of (quality) youth and (quality) experience is darn near ideal. Cavani, Suarez and Godin are still close enough to their primes. And the next generation has emerged just in time for Russia, in almost every position of need. So Uruguay has the dynamic, clinical frontmen; it has a central defensive marshal, but also a 23-year-old physical specimen, Gimenez, beside him. And the midfield, a major question mark six months ago, has come together around Vecino and 20-year-old Rodrigo Bentancur. Provided the World Cup debutants don’t get starry-eyed, all the pieces are in place for a deep run.

Why they’ll lose games: The midfield is exciting, but young, and will go into the World Cup with very few games under its belt as a unit. There are still kinks to work out, and a balance to strike. If the kids don’t gel with Vecino, support for Suarez and Cavani could be scarce. And while there are certainly worse players to rely on, over-reliance would be a worry against stronger opponents.

How they’ll play: Uruguay, for the better part of Tabarez’s tenure, has been content to sit behind the ball, muddy up games, and play on the counter. It averaged 40.6 percent possession throughout qualifying. But the 2018 World Cup could be the first major stage of an evolution. The group opponents – all inferior to most South American foes – will almost necessitate it. But so will the transition to a new crop of midfielders; one aspect of that transition should be a corresponding one to a more expansive style. La Celeste could revert to their old ways in the knockout rounds, but expect a more adventurous version early on.

Projected lineup (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Maxi Pereira, Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez, Martin Caceres; Nahitan Nandez, Matias Vecino, Rodrigo Bentancur; Giorgian de Arrascaeta; Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani

The two experienced fullbacks might not be locked in as starters, but look like they’ll get the call. The midfield is set, unless Tabarez opts for a more traditional 4-4-2, in which case Christian Rodriguez would probably come in for Arrascaeta.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Even if you’ve completely ignored soccer between World Cups, you know Uruguay’s protagonists. Suarez, Cavani, Godin and Muslera were fixtures down the spine of the team all the way back in 2010. In fact, as many as five or six players from that squad could start in Russia; four definitely will. That little turnover is very unusual.

Why to root for them: True soccer hipsters are going to fall in love with the midfield. So carve out some YouTube time for Nandez highlight clips and grainy de Arrascaeta skill mixes to get acclimated, maybe read a few articles bashing the unfairly maligned Cavani to get riled up, and hop on board.

Why to root against them: Suarez is the quintessential World Cup villain. The handball in 2010. The bite in 2014. Dagger goals in both South Africa and Brazil. It’s certainly possible to appreciate and adore his pugnacious relentlessness and talent. But it’s also possible to loathe him. And a lot of people do.

If you’re going to watch one game … The group finale, with Russia possibly needing a result to avoid ignominy, and Suarez smelling blood, should be great entertainment.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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