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Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Updated: June 3, 10:28 AM ET
Team preview: Uruguay

By Michael Griffin
ESPN.com

One of five nations with multiple World Cup titles, Uruguay won 10 of its first 11 matches in World Cup play but has triumphed in only one game since 1970, a group-stage victory over South Korea in 1990.

Head coach for La Celeste in that World Cup was Oscar Tabarez, who returned for a second stint at the helm four years ago. He led the national team through an inconsistent but ultimately successful 2010 qualifying campaign, as Uruguay finished fifth in the South American region and then outlasted Costa Rica in a two-leg playoff to earn a berth in South Africa.

Uruguay scored 28 goals in South American qualifying (third-highest behind Brazil and Chile), but was shut out four times in its last seven games in the region. That dip in scoring may be due more to a lack of midfield creativity than prowess at forward, as frontmen Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez were in great goal-scoring form for their club teams in Europe this season.

If those two can continue to find the net in South Africa, Uruguay has a good chance at advancing out of Group A to reach the knockout rounds for the first time since 1990.

Coach: Oscar Tabarez

In his 30 years of coaching, Tabarez has managed a number of club sides in addition to his time with Uruguay's national team two decades ago. He led Penarol to the Copa Libertadores title in 1987 and was in charge of famed Boca Juniors when the Buenos Aires club won an Argentine championship in 1992. Known as "El Maestro," Tabarez is an offensive-minded coach who has introduced a number of younger players into the team's attack during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Style of play

Uruguay is noted for a physical and aggressive approach to the game, and has lined up in a standard 4-4-2 formation in addition to variations of a 4-3-3 setup as well as a three-man backline during recent qualifiers. Tabarez is likely to adapt his tactics depending on his opponent, and can rely on a number of holding midfielders and talented forwards when choosing his strategy from game to game.

Players to watch

1. Luis Suarez. A product of Nacional in Uruguay, Suarez has been a revelation since moving to Dutch club Ajax in 2007. The 23-year-old forward, already captain for the Amsterdam club, scored 35 goals this season for Ajax and has the potential to be one of the top young stars at the World Cup. Suarez will use his pace to attack down the left flank, but he is also comfortable playing centrally and can create scoring opportunities for others.

2. Diego Lugano. Uruguay's defense will be marshaled by the rugged Lugano, who first became national team captain in 2006. The central defender, who combines poise and strength, led Sao Paolo to the 2005 Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup titles, which earned him South American Defender of the Year honors that season. Now playing with Fenerbahce in Turkey, Lugano appeared in 17 of his team's 20 World Cup qualifiers.

3. Sebastian Abreu. The 6-foot-4 Abreu adds a physical element to Uruguay's front line, to combine with the speed offered by younger attackers like Suarez and Cristian Rodriguez. Abreu notched the clinching goal in the playoff with Costa Rica, and will offer some experience having been a member of the national team at the 2002 World Cup.

Who's hot

Diego Forlan. The veteran striker led Atletico Madrid to the UEFA Europa League title this season, scoring two goals in both the semifinal stage and the final. Since moving to Spain in 2005 after an unimpressive period with Manchester United, Forlan has become a goal-scoring machine, twice topping La Liga's scoring charts and winning the European Golden Boot. The 31-year-old forward -- who scored a goal against Senegal at the 2002 World Cup -- contributed seven goals during La Celeste's 2010 qualifying campaign.

Who's not

Sebastian Viera. A hot property five years ago, goalkeeper Viera almost moved to Arsenal in England's Premier League before signing with Villarreal to become the Spanish club's first-choice keeper. Now with Larissa in Greece, Viera was given a chance to regain Uruguay's No. 1 jersey during qualifying, but was dropped after a 4-0 loss at home to Brazil in June of 2009.

Three key questions

1. Has the goalkeeping issue been resolved? A number of goalkeepers were given the chance during qualifying, only to be dropped thereafter by Tabarez. Veteran international Fabian Carini started the campaign as top keeper but was replaced by Juan Castillo, who then lost out for a time due to injury. Viera was also in goal for a few qualifiers, but Tabarez opted for a fourth choice by bringing in 23-year-old Fernando Muslera for the final key matches. Will the youngster retain his spot, or will Uruguay's manager opt for a more experienced keeper?

2. Is there enough creativity in Uruguay's midfield? Another critical area for La Celeste is the midfield, which has featured two holding players at times and is more known recently for its graft than individual playmaking skill. To improve the situation, Tabarez gave Nicolas Lodeiro his senior team debut in the playoff against Costa Rica. The 21-year-old possesses great technical skill and speed and, like club teammate Suarez, is a potential breakout star.

3. Will Uruguay find consistency after an up-and-down qualifying campaign? Tabarez's squad was plagued by inconsistent play throughout the qualifiers, as impressive victories against Chile and Paraguay were offset by a loss to Peru and a pair of home draws with Ecuador and Venezuela. Opening against 2006 World Cup finalist France, La Celeste cannot afford a lackluster performance to begin their journey in South Africa, or their stay may be a short one.

Projected lineup

G Fernando Muslera, Lazio (Italy)
D Martin Caceres, Juventus (Italy)
D Diego Lugano, Fenerbahce (Turkey)
D Andres Scotti, Colo Colo (Chile)
D Diego Godin, Villarreal (Spain)
M Maxi Pereira, Benfica (Portugal)
M Walter Gargano, Napoli (Italy)
M Diego Perez, Monaco (France)
M Nicolas Lodeiro, Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
F Luis Suarez, Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
F Diego Forlan, Atletico Madrid (Spain)