Uruguay are the team that the World Cup forgot. They won the tournament on their first two appearances (1930 and 1950), and Obdulio Varela, their indomitable captain during the latter triumph, has a strong case for being the greatest leader in the tournament's history. Yet of the seven past World Cup winners, they are the only ones who are never seen as contenders each time.
That is because a team drawn from a population around three and a half million struggled to qualify, reaching only four of the last nine tournaments, and in those four they did not go beyond the last 16.
If there is little chance of them evoking their golden past by claiming a third World Cup here, they can least legitimately hope to erase their more ignominious recent past in this competition. Oscar Tabrez's side have a puncher's chance of becoming the first South American team other than Brazil or Argentina to reach the last eight since Peru in 1978. With Uruguay, however, things are rarely simple. There was a familiarity to their shambolic trip to South Africa, for instance, when their flight was delayed by nine hours, and their performances can make the little girl with the little curl seem like equilibrium incarnate.
They were the last of the 32 teams to qualify, battling past Costa Rica in a play-off, yet since then they have gathered a quiet momentum, with their last two matches bringing emphatic victories over Switzerland and Israel. Almost by accident, they have become one of the tournament's dark horses.
Their group, comprising France, Mexico and South Africa, lacks an outstanding side, which means they could easily top it, opening up the draw enticingly. Yet the absence of a makeweight presuming South Africa are invigorated by being hosts makes it very hard to predict. Fatalism is usually in the air with Uruguay at the World Cup and, while every side craves at least a draw in their opening game, they need it more than most.
They start against France and the fact Group A is so awkward to judge has increased the reluctance of Tabrez, who was also in charge of a disappointing Italia 90 campaign, to set a points target. “I don't want to be affected by this type of theorisation, because that's going away from reality and we're going to take it game by game,” he said. “The aim is to beat France, with all the respect we have for them and how difficult we know it will be.”
Tabrez is expected to field a compact 3-4-1-2 system, with a strong, unyielding spine supporting the effervescent front pair of Atltico Madrid's Diego Forln and Ajax's Luis Surez. Between them they scored 77 goals last season, with Surez getting 49.