In these final FIFA dates before World Cup squads are published, most coaches are merely ticking over, relishing the time to gather the group together and looking at periphery choices, with the core plan for Qatar already well established.
South Americans in particular should take this to heart. Having participated in two editions of the Copa America and eighteen rounds of World Cup qualifications since the middle of 2019, they have had more than enough competitive games to whip their team into shape. That is undeniably accurate with respect to Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador.
It’s not valid in Uruguay though. As a coach, Diego Alonso‘s appointment didn’t come until the last months of the previous year. He still has a ton of groundwork to lay and major choices to make, so Uruguay’s next friendlies against Iran and Canada are among the most intriguing matches of the next few days.
After Oscar Washington Tabarez’s historic 15-year reign ended, Uruguay hired Fernando Alonso to lead the team back to the top of the football world. After the events in Russia 2018, Tabaez may have done better to step down. However, it is not hard to see why he gave in to their charms and stayed.
The journey to Qatar would mark the coming of age of the team’s young, promising midfielders, Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur, and the final hurrah of his team’s experienced mainstays, including Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin, Fernando Muslera, and Martin Caceres. At least on paper, everything sounded perfect. Issues arose in the field of play.
La Selección 🇺🇾😍 pic.twitter.com/9xJkIOBq4W
— Luis Suárez (@LuisSuarez9) September 20, 2022
The main problem, which stumped Tabarez and now challenges Alonso, is figuring out how to strike a good equilibrium. It’s unclear how many of the veterans can be used in a single squad.
Tabarez was ultimately undone by a confluence of injuries and a grueling schedule and never found an answer. It looked like Uruguay would make it to Qatar, but then they had to play Argentina at home and away, Brazil away, and Bolivia at the high altitude of La Paz. When you lose four times, especially when three of those losses are devastating, you have to do something different.
The schedule was kind to Alonso, and he helped Uruguay qualify for the World Cup by beating Paraguay, Venezuela, and Peru. Qatar’s other group opponents, South Korea, Portugal, and Ghana, will be much tougher.
Alonso is well aware that the World Cup team he sends out will be different from the one he chose for qualification. These distinctions should become more apparent to him during the next few days.
Godin, Uruguay’s captain, leader, and central defender, is plainly on the decline and has sustained injuries that will keep him out of action for the rest of the month. Alonso took precautions to safeguard Godin’s safety on the field earlier this year. What’s the point of picking him if he doesn’t deserve it?
— Luis Suárez (@LuisSuarez9) September 19, 2022
Ronald Araujo, a defender for Barcelona, might potentially switch positions and play more in the center-back position. The collaboration between Araujo and Jose Maria Gimenez is intriguing. Since Gimenez is injured and unable to play, Alonso can use this opportunity to make Araujo the starting central defender for both games. Godin will undoubtedly participate in the World Cup if he is healthy enough to do so. Still, it could be useful, albeit possibly only as a backup plan.
What about the goalie position? Due to Muslera’s early-year injury, home-base Sergio Rochet was called upon to fill in. He’s a good enough goalie to start for the team. But he lacks the fluidity necessary for world-class success. Whether or not Alonso sticks by Rochet and not Muslera remains to be seen.
Cavani, who often plays at the other end, was not included in this team. He will definitely make it to the World Cup, and Valencia is giving him time to get back into game shape. Yet in what capacity? Cavani and Suarez can’t both play for Uruguay anymore, thus one of them has to sit on the bench.
And yet, we still don’t know what happened to Darwin Nunez. Is he able to join in with the veterans? Should Uruguay stick with the 4-4-2 formation or switch to a different formation? There is a belief that Uruguay’s midfielders, arguably the greatest portion of the current squad, would be more effective with a different style that would allow them to play with three central players and a winger who can stretch the field.
With only two months until the big kickoff, Uruguay must make some crucial decisions, not only concerning people but also about the shape and entire concept of the team. Preseason contests versus Iran and Canada have rarely held as much significance.