His reward was a new contract on Friday for another cycle of four years to try to steer the small South American nation to the 2014 finals in Brazil, a neighbouring country with special connotations for Uruguayan football.
Uruguay, who reached the semi-finals in Mexico in 1970, went no further than the second round in Italy in 1990 after Tabarez had tired his team out during a long tour of Europe.
The former schoolmaster known as El Maestro, given another chance in 2006, drew up a plan from junior level upwards in a bid to improve a team that lived in the shadow of two World Cup victories in the first half of the 20th century.
Four years is a tight schedule and managing a team made up largely of foreign-based players during a two-year, 18-match qualifying campaign is exhausting, and getting through was a close call.
Uruguay finished fifth in the 10-team group, with only the top four going through automatically to the finals. They then met Costa Rica in a playoff, winning 2-1 on aggregate to book the last ticket to South Africa.
The success story started then with Tabarez revising his pre-finals schedule from that of 1990, keeping the team at home until the last minute, playing few warm-ups and telling his players to relax and enjoy the moment.
Uruguay, inspired by striker Diego Forlan, reached the semi-finals in South Africa by playing good football and riding their luck.
Tabarez will not demand his players go a step further in Brazil by trying to emulate the heroes of 1950, who upset the home favourites 2-1 in one of the greatest all-time shocks to lift their second world title.
He will instead ask them to dream as they did in South Africa that such an achievement is not impossible.
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