Rusty Uruguay Starting To Show Their Age
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez will be banking on experience at the World Cup but on Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Austria suggested that the tournament in Brazil may be a bridge too far for his ageing stalwarts.
The South American champions were outplayed in the first half by their middle-ranking European opponents and were lucky not to be two or three goals behind at halftime.
They eventually battled back in the second half to scramble a draw, although it was never pretty to watch and raised plenty of questions about several of Tabarez's old faithful.
Uruguay's starting line-up included four players over the age of 30, including 34-year-old Diego Forlan in attack, and none younger than 27.
Several of them were short of match practice at club level including West Bromwich Albion defender Diego Lugano, who limped off injured after half an hour, and left back Jorge Fucile, who has been shunned by his club Porto and made only one appearance all season.
However, Tabarez made no apologies afterwards, insisting that he still had faith in the players who reached the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup and won the Copa America the following year.
"I was surprised by our poor positioning in the first half, which is certainly not us," he said after the game in Klagenfurt.
"In the second half, we were much more like our usual selves.
"It's no secret that we have a lot more players with World Cup experience than in South Africa, when only two or three had it, and we also have a group of young players who are fighting for their chance.
"I've been working here for eight years and I want to use the experience of these players who played seven matches at the last World Cup, finished in fourth place, won the Copa America the following year and turned around a very difficult situation in the World Cup qualifiers, when it appeared we would be eliminated.
" Tabarez took over for a second stint as Uruguay coach after they failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
He built the squad, based on players such as Maxi Pereira, Diego Perez, Lugano, Diego Godin, Alvaro Pereira, Egidio Arevalo, Forlan and Cristian Rodriguez, which has once again made tiny Uruguay a force in international football.
The striking duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, who missed Wednesday's game, through injury gives a cutting edge to an otherwise workmanlike team.
Uruguay, who face Italy, England and Costa Rica in their World Cup group, are also very active in youth development but Tabarez has preferred to keep his old faithfuls together for one last fling in Brazil.
The risks were highlighted during the World Cup qualifiers when Uruguay were thrashed 5-0 by Colombia, 4-1 at high altitude in Bolivia and 3-0 in Argentina, leaving them in severe danger of elimination.
But they then showed their resilience with away wins against direct rivals Venezuela and Peru, the sort of gritty performances that Tabarez hopes will carry them through in Brazil.
The second half against Austria, when they muddled through, was another example of what he is looking for.
"We want to be what we were in South Africa, which is a team that is difficult to play against," he said.
"I don't aspire to anything else," SUPERSPORT