Group A: Uruguay

They're inconsistent and rely on a 21-year-old, but as Henry Mance reports, Uruguay will always give it their best shot...

Never write off the Uruguayans. This is a country that enjoys triumph in adversity: locals draw a line from the 1950 Final victory in the Maracana to the play-off wins that have taken them to the last two World Cups – even if they know that it’s not as much a line as a downwards slope.

So fancy a cliché or two about Uruguay’s legendary garra charrúa or Indian fighting spirit? Diego Forlan doesn’t mind if you do. “It’s not a myth. We play tough, we have done for years and it’s now something intrinsic to the national team,” says the captain.

It’s clear England aren’t the only ones looking forward to a winter World Cup. “We’ll be in a city which will seem like Montevideo,” enthuses coach Oscar Washingon Tabarez. "We’re going to arrive already adapted to the climate."

In fact Tabarez is optimistic all round, even though Uruguay are drawn against France, Mexico and South Africa. “This is not a group of death... It’s open for any team.”

StrengthsAfter years of divisions – between players from Nacional and Penarol, and between players based at home and those abroad – this Uruguay squad appears unified and motivated, with Tabarez gradually excluding disruptive players. And after trying three comedy goalkeepers, the coach also seems to have found a serious one: Lazio’s Fernando Muslera.

WeaknessesThe qualifiers showed their alarming inconsistency – Uruguay ran Brazil close in Sao Paulo, then capitulated 4-0 to them in Montevideo. Coach Tabarez attributes that to the transition from one generation of players to the next, but that process is far from complete.

The creative burden, for example, lies squarely on shoulders of Ajax star Nicolas Lodeiro, 21, who only came into the team during the play-off with Costa Rica; it probably won't help that he's being being labelled the Uruguayan Messi. And at the back, versatile Juventus defender Martin Caceres has missed much of the season through injury and was a doubt for the finals.

Interesting factAlcides Ghiggia, who scored the winner against Brazil in 1950, is the only survivor of that Uruguay team; at 83, he's the oldest man alive to have scored in a World Cup Final.

The Coach: Oscar Washington TabarezTabarez first took Uruguay to the World Cup in 1990 – the last time they got into second round. Since returning to the national set-up in 2006, he has won plaudits for his independence and strictness.

Key Player: Diego ForlanRelatively subdued for Atletico Madrid this season, Forlan has massive responsibility as creator and goalscorer for Uruguay. This is presumably his last chance to improve his current World Cup goals tally of one.

Probable Team (4-4-2): Muslera; M Pereira, Godin, Lugano, Caceres; Perez, Gargano, A Pereira, Lodeiro; Forlan, Suarez.

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the playersINTERVIEW: Diego Forlan on Uruguay, England and what would happen if Wales won the World Cup Q&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation

FixturesFrance, June 11, 7.30pm, Cape TownSouth Africa, June 16, 7.30pm, Tshwane/PretoriaMexico, June 22, 8pm, Rustenburg

Qualified Fifth in CONMEBOL groupBolivia (H) 5-0Paraguay (A) 0-1Chile (H) 2-2Brazil (A) 2-1Venezuela (H) 1-1Peru (H) 6-0Colombia (A) 1-0Ecuador (H) 0-0Argentina (A) 1-2Bolivia (A) 2-2Paraguay (H) 2-0Chile (H) 0-0Brazil (H) 0-4Venezuela (A) 2-2Peru (A) 0-1Colombia (H) 3-1Ecuador (A) 2-1Argentina (H) 0-1Play-offCosta Rica (A) 1-0Costa Rica (H) 1-1

World Cup record1930 Winners1950 Winners1954 Semi-Final1962 1st Round1966 Quarter-Final1970 Semi-Final1974 1st Round1986 2nd Round1990 2nd Round2002 1st Round

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