What do Oman, Mauritania, Panama, Moldova and Puerto Rico have in common? The Geographers out there will know that they all have a larger population than Uruguay.
Roughly 3,500,000 people inhabit the South American country, tucked between 44 million Argentinians and 209 million Brazilians. In theory, every Uruguayan should be crippled by Napoleon complex, especially when it comes to football.
As it happens, Uruguay’s footballing history is richer than that homemade Christmas pudding still sitting, untouched, in your fridge.
Uruguay hosted, and won, the inaugural World Cup in 1930, powered by the goals of Pedro Cea and Peregrino Anselmo. Twenty years later, La Celeste added another World Cup after upsetting to odds to beat Brazil in the Maracana.
Throw in 15 Copa America titles, as well as two Olympic gold medals, and the country with a population nearly half the size of Laos can rightfully take its place at football’s top table.
But, putting honours to one side for a moment, it’s Uruguay’s unrelenting knack for producing brilliant strikers during the last 25 years that really catches the eye.
It’s a wonder they’re not all left-footed, given they grew up watching the great maverick Alvaro Recoba.
A scorer of great goals, rather than a great goalscorer, Recoba is arguably the most technical player ever to represent Uruguay.
What El Chino couldn’t do with his left foot wasn’t worth doing. Take his Inter Milan debut in which he came off the bench to rescue the game with two howitzers from a combined distance of 70 yards, leaving Ronaldo open mouthed.
Indeed, El Chino’s talents were so sought after that, at the end of 2000, Inter made him the highest paid player in world football.
Eleven goals in 69 caps were scant return for a man possessing such ability, but the memories he created would serve as a inspiration for Uruguay’s next generation.
One of those inspired was Diego Forlan. Like Recoba, Forlan spent time in Danubio’s academy before moving to Independiente.
Likewise Luis Suarez, who missed out on playing with Recoba at Nacional by five years.
Both Forlan and Suarez’s stories in Europe are well told. As is Edinson Cavani’s, another member of Danubio’s prolific academy.
Between them they’ve scored 137 for Uruguay and counting. But, with Forlan having finished his career and Cavani and Suarez entering the dirty thirties, you’d be forgiven for thinking Uruguay’s run of strikers was over.
An honourable mention, too, for Cristhian Stuani.
Only Lionel Messi and Suarez have scored more goals than the Girona striker in La Liga this season. Last season Stuani netted 21 times in the league, a tally only Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Suarez and Iago Aspas could top.
However, at the age of 32, his time with the national team is also coming to an end.
Time to panic for Uruguay? Not quite, because La Celeste look to have developed another gem to lead their attack.
Celta Vigo’s Maxi Gomez started his career at Defensor Sporting before moving to La Liga in 2017.
Seventeen goals in 36 league games last year hinted at promise, while eight league goals in 13 games this season have seen the 22-year-old tipped to replace countryman Suarez when he eventually leaves Barcelona.
Gomez has been capped nine times for Uruguay, although he’s firmly in the shadows of Cavani and Suarez for now. Not too shabby a partnership to learn from.
What are they feeding them in Uruguay?
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