As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Let’s face it. Not every team has the same chances of taking home the World Cup trophy. Australia (1500/1 odds) has far less of a chance of making it to the tournament, having been drawn with defending World Cup finalists Spain (13/2) and the Netherlands (34/1). A team like Iran (1000/1), matched against a perennial powerhouse like Argentina (9/2), would have to upset the entire balance of world football order to advance far in the tournament.
So in that spirit, let’s look at the top 12 teams with the best shot to win the preeminent championship of the beautiful game. But we’re not talking FIFA coefficients here; the real place to look for contenders is with the betting odds. (This might seem odd in light of the New York Times expose about match fixing around the 2010 World Cup… but it is not the legitimate bookmakers that have incentive to fix these matches.)
All odds provided by Unibet. Why Unibet among all possible bookmakers? Well… I’ve been partial to the company since the cycling team they sponsored received a raw deal back in 2007. And their hierarchy of teams is not appreciably different than any other. Feel free to peruse the full selection of odds from around the globe here.
9. Uruguay (Group D — 27/1 odds)
Uruguay seems awfully low in the bidding for World Cup favorites, slotting in with 27/1 odds. One wonders how much the apprehension of the bookmakers comes down to Luis Suarez and the left knee he had surgically repaired last month. If the goal-poaching Liverpool star (and part-time cannibal) can fully recuperate in time to lead the attack in Brazil, the reigning Copa America champions have a legitimate chance of at least returning to the semifinals.
And if they reach that point once again, all bets are off this time. We would most likely see a Rioplatense derby against Argentina if they make it at far, a rematch of the 1930 World Cup final. Los Charruas have a history of playing well in the World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere, having won twice and reached the semifinals another time in four appearances. They’d like nothing more than to pull off another Maracanazo…
World Cup History
Uruguay was the early superpower of international football, winning the 1924 and 1928 Olympics before hosting and then earning the inaugural World Cup title in 1930. They would sit out each of the next two tournaments that were played in Europe, but their return to the grand stage in 1950 lives on as one of the most improbably glorious (if you’re Uruguayan) or perpetually painful (if you’re Brazilian) results in the long history of the World Cup.
Playing before 200,000 people in the newly-built Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Friaca put the hosts up 1-0 in the match, and Brazil continued the preemptive partying that had been unleashed for the world championship that seemed inevitable. Then Juan Alberto Schiaffino scored in the 66th minute, tensions mounted, and 13 minutes later Alcides Ghiggia beat Selecao goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa with a hard, low shot that squeezed between the keeper’s outstretched hands and the near post for the game winner. And thus the legend of the Maracanazo was born.
It has been 64 years since Uruguay stole the title and broke the hearts of Brazilian fans. Since that day, Uruguay has played in nine of a possible 15 tournaments, reaching the semifinals in 1954, 1970, and 2010.
Four years ago they…
… were watching Luis Suarez play goalie against Ghana and advancing to the semifinals before bowing out to the Netherlands 3-2. They would go on to lose the third-place match to Germany by the same score on a late goal from Sami Khedira. It was nevertheless the deepest run in the World Cup for Uruguay in 40 years.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Edinson Cavani
Luis Suarez’s recovery from knee surgery leaves some questions on offense for Uruguay that could be easily answered with a strong performance by Edinson Cavani. Four years ago, it was Diego Forlan that was shouldering the brunt of the scoring duties; he would tie three others for the scoring title in South Africa.
After spending the past six seasons in Serie A in Italy with Palermo and Napoli, Cavani moved on last season to big-spending French side Paris-Saint Germain, where he potted 16 goals in 30 matches. The man from Salto also scored six goals during World Cup qualifying and two more during the FIFA Confederations Cup last summer.
Forlan is now 35, having lost a step up top. Suarez is an unknown commodity at this point given his recent knee injury. If Uruguay is going to go deep into the World Cup this summer, it will need someone to step up and take charge of the goal-scoring duties, and if it isn’t going to be Cavani the Uruguayans might be headed back south to Montevideo earlier than desired.
COACH: Oscar Tabarez
It has already been eight years since Oscar Tabarez took over Los Charruas in the wake of another disastrous failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2006. It was his second stint in charge of Uruguay, his first coming nearly two decades earlier from 1988 to 1990. Since rejoining the team he never got to suit up for as a player, Tabarez has guided Uruguay to the semifinals of the 2007 Copa America, the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup… and then he followed those performances up by taking the Copa America crown in 2011. He failed to get the squad out of the group stage of the 2012 Olympics in London, but otherwise he has been the perfect fit to get the most out of an eclectic Uruguay squad.
Uruguay 23-Man Roster
|5 - Walter Gargano|
|2 - Diego Lugano||6 - Alvaro Pereira|
|3 - Diego Godin||7 - Cristian Rodriguez||8 - Abel Hernandez|
|1 - Fernando Muslera||4 - Jorge Fucile||14 - Nicolas Lodeiro||9 - Luis Suarez|
|12 - Rodrigo Munoz||13 - Jose Maria Giminez||15 - Diego Perez||10 - Diego Forlan|
|23 - Martin Silva||16 - Maxi Pereira||17 - Egidio Arevalo Rios||11 - Christian Stuani|
|19 - Sebastian Coates||18 - Gaston Ramirez||21 - Edinson Cavani|
|22 - Martin Caceres||20 - Alvaro Gonzalez|
How Far Can Uruguay Go?
The South American champions are battle-tested, skilled, and among the powerhouses of the tournament. Unibet, frankly, is trying to give you money with odds like these. Like 2010, they backed into the tournament after needing to win a playoff against Jordan. And like 2010, that underwhelming entrance into the tournament might just lull people into thinking Uruguay isn’t a threat this year. Even with the question marks surrounding Suarez and his fitness level ahead of the World Cup, La Celeste have one of the strongest lineups top to bottom in the tournament. The defense is the weakest point, but if Cavani and crew can score enough the Uruguayans could easily reach the semifinals.