For the first time in 15 years, Uruguay is planning for a World Cup without the “maestro.”
Óscar Tabárez, the 75-year-old coach who led the team at the three previous editions of the tournament, is out. His replacement is 47-year-old Diego Alonso, a man with little experience who will likely put his trust in veteran strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez.
Alonso took over for Tabárez this year after a series of poor results in South American qualifying. The change helped the team secure a direct spot in the World Cup, but it also cut a family bond between the coach and his players, including some who took the “Celeste” to the World Cup semifinals in 2010.
“We don’t compare ourselves with anyone, or with (teams of) previous World Cups, or with what happened before,” Alonso said recently. “We only hope for the best because that’s what we want, that’s our desire.”
Uruguay will play in Group H at the tournament in Qatar, facing South Korea, Portugal and Ghana.
Alonso didn’t hesitate to change Uruguay’s starting lineup after taking over from Tabárez, a man known in Uruguay as “maestro.”
After some terrible results in qualifying, he replaced veteran goalkeeper Fernando Muslera with Sergio Rochet. The new coach also picked 24-year-old Mathías Olivera as his left back. Since then, Uruguay has conceded fewer goals.
Alonso has also given more freedom to midfielders Rodrigo Betancur and Federico Valverde, which allows 20-year-old winger Facundo Pellistri, another player hand-picked by Alonso, to shine.
SUÁREZ AND CAVANI
Suárez and Cavani are both 35 years old and both will be playing at their fourth and possibly last World Cup. The country’s top two scorers, who will face tough competition to remain in the team, have taken different paths to secure their places.
Suárez returned home to play for boyhood team Nacional, which made him even more of a Uruguayan hero for many fans, and has scored five goals in 13 matches.
Cavani moved from Manchester United, where he was mostly on the bench, to Spanish club Valencia. He has scored two goals in four matches in Spain.
At the World Cup, Suárez has scored seven goals overall. That is one short of national record holder Óscar Míguez, who played on the 1950 winning team.
Darwin Núñez, a 23-year-old forward recently signed by Liverpool, is sure to fight for a place in the team. Valverde and defender Ronald Araújo are even more likely to play in Qatar because Alonso sees them as part of the team’s future.
Valverde, who is 24, should play a new role with the national team. Instead of focusing on defending, he is scoring goals from outside the box and helping out with assists.
The 23-year-old Araújo can adapt to any position in Uruguay’s defense.
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