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History of Uruguayan Men’s Football – A Big Lesson to Learn!
Football and human development
Uruguay’s appearance at the 2010 World Cup comes as little surprise to many people who have followed its victories and dreams. Fiercely competitive, Uruguay took a quantum leap forward in 1997 when they came close to winning the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, finishing ahead of Ghana and Ireland. Since then, the national team has not won the tournament, but it paved the way for the Uruguayan national football team to the World Cup in South Africa in June 2010.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the eyes of the world were on Uruguay. Why? The national team – made up of mostly unknown players – became one of the top four teams in the world, knocking out bookies’ favourites, Brazil – made up of world-famous footballers. After defeating four teams: South Africa, Mexico, South Korea and Ghana, this nation – traditionally the leader in the first half of the 20th century – became the first Latin American country in 8 years to reach the men’s semi-finals.
Uruguay’s achievement came despite a series of obstacles: a small nation of around 4 million people, an exodus of players, a lack of sponsors and traditional rivals (Brazil and Argentina). In addition to these obstacles, the country has one of the lowest sports budgets in the Western Hemisphere. However, two factors contributed to the development of football: human development and determination.
1)- Human development: Because of its remarkable human development – health, nutrition, education and recreation – Uruguay has been widely regarded as one of the most respected democracies in the developing world – the envy of many Spanish-speaking republics in the region – since the mid-1980s. By the mid-1990s, the UNDP’s Human Development Index ranked Uruguay – which lacks mineral resources such as oil, gas, silver and gold – 32nd out of 173 countries and dependencies. In other words, one of the government’s first priorities is to improve the lives of Uruguay’s children. In fact, these policies have contributed to the improvement of the country’s athletic performance as well as national pride. As a result, the under-17 national football team qualified to compete at the World Junior Championship in 1991, a participation they repeated in 1999, 2005 and 2009.
2) – Determination and passion: If one word can describe the Uruguayan team, it is “determination”. Despite being composed of unknown players, the national team was not afraid of world-famous teams like France (which failed to measure up to predictions), Germany and Holland. At the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay, one of the geographically smallest republics in the Western Hemisphere, earned the respect of fans and pundits for their determination and passion. Since then, they, the Uruguayan team, have been aware of the nation’s history as one of the greatest pioneers of football. Without a doubt, these players are a symbol of hope and courage.
Dictatorship and football
After an auto-coup in 1973, then head of state José María Bordaberi, an anti-Marxist strongman, established a de facto dictatorship, after which Uruguay was marked by several problems. The international image of the country is damaged by poor human rights and anti-democratic government projects. In this atmosphere, sport was not one of the priorities of the Uruguayan dictators, unlike other tyrants in the region, including the Argentine Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) and the Peruvian Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975).
Year after year, the military regime overturned most Olympic politics. In fact, football, which fostered national identity in the first half of the 20th century, entered a period of decline. After Uruguay’s participation in the World Cup in West Germany in June 1974, where it took 14th place, the nation, for example, lost its chance to win an Olympic medal after refusing to send soccer players to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal (Canada). However, his most successful year was in 1977 when Uruguay lost 1-0 to Bolivia and failed to compete in the 1978 World Cup. Undoubtedly, Uruguay’s players, who once defeated Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, were plagued by poor morale.
Until July 1979, surprisingly, the national team did not compete in the Pan American Games in San Juan de Puerto Rico (where they were heavy favorites). But it wasn’t for lack of talent. Before this multi-sport event, Uruguayan players won the South American Under-20 Tournament in 1979. Until the early 1980s, it decided not to participate in the Continental Olympic Tournament in Colombia. Furthermore, despite winning the Gold Cup in Montevideo, the team once again failed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup as they failed to win the South American qualifiers.
Amid economic stagnation, corruption and human rights violations, up to 200 footballers have left the nation. On the other hand, in 1984, the anti-communist dictatorship stepped down after 11 years.
Once upon a time in Uruguay…
During the first half of the 20th century, Uruguay – slightly smaller than Missouri – wrote one of the most significant chapters in Latin American history, as the country received praise from the international community for its support of democracy, human rights and human development. As a result, Uruguay, which had one of the highest per capita incomes in the Western Hemisphere, was compared to Switzerland and other European countries. At the same time, the Spanish-speaking republic could boast of one of the most important Olympic projects on the American mainland.
In fact, sports, along with education, were a high priority for the Uruguayan government. At that time – which is considered the “golden age” in the history of Uruguay – the national team was the leader in football on the planet. Since then, football stars including Obdulio Varela – who led the national team to victory in the 1950 FIFA World Cup – Jose Nasazi and Pedro Cea – who led the Uruguayan Olympic team that won the gold medal in Paris in 1924 and Amsterdam in 1928. – were known in schools, universities and factories.
At its peak, the Uruguay national team — the great pride of Latin America — won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in soccer in 1924 — at which time no other Latin American country had even won an Olympic trophy — and 1928, as well as winning the first-ever the men’s world championship title in 1930. These victories, on the other hand, are considered among the most significant football stories, inspiring Brazil to create world-class teams. However, the most notable performance came in 1950. In that year, the Uruguay national football team celebrated by defeating the host nation Brazil and lifting the world title, an event that was held at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The victory of this country is a turning point in the history of football.
These achievements gave the South American nation a prestige in the world out of proportion to its size and population. Certainly, the democratic system has done a lot to win international meetings. Unfortunately, these victories did not continue as a military dictatorship was established in the early 70s.
Uruguay – a country of sports fans
Since the 1970s, governments have not given a high priority to sports. Despite this, Uruguay – with a population of 4 million – has had outstanding champions, including Ana Maria Norbis (aquatics), Fiorella Boncelli (tennis), Sergio Lafuente (weightlifting) and Ricardo Vera (aleco). In the meantime, her basketball players were particularly successful. At the FIBA World Championship in Colombia in the early 80s, Uruguayan athlete Wilfredo Ruiz was the first scorer. Two years later, in 1984, for example, the basketball team defeated Canada to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (where they finished sixth). Earlier, Uruguay became the only Latin American national team to win two consecutive Olympic basketball bronze medals.
Apart from football and basketball, Uruguay has won plaudits for its international cyclists and rowers. In the 1980s, the country’s rower Jesus Pose came close to winning the gold medal at the World Championships, an international meet dominated by Eastern Europe. At the 2000 Summer Games in Oceania, cyclist Milton Vibnants was runner-up, behind Juan Llaneras of Spain.
Finally, the Uruguayan government should come up with an ambitious program to put Uruguay — sometimes called the “Switzerland of America” – into the top ten countries in the world of sports this century. Like South Korea, one of the world’s most successful Olympic nations since 1988, the Spanish-speaking republic should think big.
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