Generation gap a Tabarez tweak for Uruguay before Copa America
Many pundits were right about the ageing Uruguay squad Oscar Tabarez took to the last World Cup in neighbouring Brazil. He selected seven players 30 or over, and 14 of the 23-man roster either turned 28 the tournament or were at least that old.
La Celeste were the first victims of deadly and direct surprise package Costa Rica, though they rallied to beat England and edge Italy, but Tabarez’s team saw their race run when they succumbed to Colombia and James Rodriguez in the last 16.
That squad with its spine of players called Diego (Forlan, Godin, Lugano and Perez) captured the Copa America three years prior, but Uruguay’s odds of retaining that continental crown are 10/1 with Coral. And this price is not without good reason, as the winds of change have been brought on by necessity.
It’s pointless discussing Luis Suarez. La Celeste’s brightest star should break the 20-goal barrier in his maiden campaign with Barcelona, but must still serve a competitive international ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil.
Strike partner Diego Forlan has finished representing his country like fellow veterans and namesakes Lugano and Perez, plus Andres Scotti, who will be 40 by this year’s end. We’ll return to attacking options later.
Three more 30-somethings, holding midfield pair Sebastian Eguren (Palmeiras) and Walter Gargano (Napoli), and full back Jorge Fucile (Nacional), had seemed out of favour, but the latter pair are included on the preliminary roster.
Seasoned internationals Martin Caceres (Juventus) and Cristian Rodriguez (loaned by Atletico Madrid to Brazilian club Gremio) have had different outcomes in their respective races to prove their fitness and form before the end of this term.
Alvaro Pereira and centurion namesake Maxi remain first-choice in the full back berths with Egidio Arevalo Rios shielding the back four.
Diego Godin of Atleti was a natural successor to Lugano as captain, and is partnered by 20-year-old club teammate Jose Maria Gimenez (pictured together below) in the heart of the Uruguay defence.
Another Vicente Calderon owned player, Emiliano Velazquez (across the Spanish capital at Getafe), joins fellow youngster Gaston Silva (on the fringes at Torino) and Sunderland loanee Sebastian Coates, still only 24, as backup.
Galatasaray goalie Fernando Muslera remains La Celeste’s undisputed number one, and will be in nets for his fifth tournament. Martin Silva is still his understudy, joined by uncapped 33-year-old Rodrigo Munoz.
Despite a difficult debut season at Hull City, Abel Hernandez could make the cut, but on-loan clubmate Gaston Ramirez (from Southampton) misses out as he is no longer Tabarez’s archetypal forward-thinking midfielder.
In the last Uruguay squad before their Copa America roster is announced, a number of tricky, diminutive players all plying their trade in South America were called up.
While aggressive ex-Ajax man Nicolas Lodeiro (now at Boca Juniors following stints at Botafogo and Corinthians) has been a regular, River Plate pair Camilo Mayada and Carlos Sanvhez are new to international football alongside recently acquired Cruzeiro schemer Giorgian De Arrascaeta.
Tabarez is likely to retain Alvaro Gonzalez, loaned by Lazio to Torino, because of his versatility. Up front and in suspended Suarez’s absence, Edinson Cavani finally gets his chance to be main man for La Celeste at a tournament.
Dazzling in attacking ensembles at first Napoli and now PSG, there should be no complaints from forward Cavani about being centre stage, and he must target adding considerably to his international tally of 25 goals in just 70 caps.
Tabarez has Hernandez, Espanyol’s steady Christian Stuani and youngsters Diego Rolan (Bordeaux) and Jonathan Rodriguez, who has not long moved to Benfica on an 18-month loan from Penarol, as attacking alternatives if Cavani cannot handle the pressure.
From the new breed, it’s 22-year-old Rolan (pictured above that looks most ready to make the step up after a dozen goals in all competitions, as unlike Cavani he seems happy to play on the wing if needed.
What we can see from veteran coach Tabarez is a clever touch not to clear out his ranks en masse, leaving some presence from four years ago still there to help this transitional time and bridge a generation gap that Uruguay are experiencing at international level.
This shall stand La Celeste in good stead ahead of a World Cup qualification campaign for 2018. Youngsters like Gimenez and Rolan are clearly their future, and will have vital roles at opposite ends of the pitch going forward for Uruguay, who are 50/1 shots to get the global crown in Russia.
Preliminary Uruguay squad for 2015 Copa America:
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Rodrigo Munoz (Libertad)
Defenders: Maxi Pereira (Benfica), Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Pereira and Matias Aguirregaray (Estudiantes), Jorge Fucile (Nacional), Sebastian Coates (Sunderland, on loan from Liverpool), Mathias Corujo (Universidad de Chile, on loan from Cerro Porteno), Gaston Silva (Torino), Emiliano Velazquez (Getafe, on loan from Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Cristian Rodriguez (Gremio, on loan from Atletico Madrid), Egidio Arevalo Rios (Tigres UANL), Walter Gargano (Napoli), Alvaro Gonzalez (Torino, on loan from Lazio), Nicolas Lodeiro (Boca Juniors), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Camilo Mayada and Carlos Sanchez (River Plate), Guzman Pereira (Universidad de Chile)
Forwards: Edinson Cavani (PSG), Christian Stuani (Espanyol), Abel Hernandez (Hull City), Diego Rolan (Bordeaux), Jonathan Rodriguez (Benfica, on loan from Penarol)