As the 2022 Qatar tournament approaches, World Cup fever is slowly starting to build. If you’re putting in the research to find this year’s favorite teams, you may find yourself down a World Cup Youtube rabbit hole.
Uruguay is one of international soccer’s most storied teams, with most of its success coming in the early to the mid-20th century. But why is Uruguay so good at soccer?
Let’s take a look at the history of soccer in Uruguay, uncovering its success and exploring why it consistently produces some of the best players and teams in the world. Some of the topics we explore include:
- Origins of soccer in Uruguay
- World Cup successes
- International performance
- Uruguay’s domestic scene
- Great Uruguayan players
Do you know how many times Uruguay has lifted the World Cup? Read on to see if you’re right!
Why Is Uruguay So Good At Soccer?
As is the case with many South American countries, soccer arrived in Uruguay with British immigrants. The British were integral to the foundation of Uruguay’s railway system and several other businesses, including the first newspaper in the city of Montevideo (The Southern Star).
However, as far as most soccer fans are concerned, the most important import was the beautiful game.
While the origins of the sport date back to 1880, the first official game in Uruguay was recorded in 1881. It took place between Montevideo Rowing Club and Montevideo Cricket Club.
Soccer developed very quickly and spread across the nation like wildfire. With a population of approximately 3 million at the time, the country became instantly obsessed.
Tours and Franchises
Several major British clubs, like Southampton, toured South America, accelerating the development in many countries, like Uruguay.
The two major franchises in Uruguay, Peñerol, and Nacional were both founded in 1899. Uruguay’s domestic soccer league was established soon after, with the inaugural tournament taking place in 1900.
Large interest levels and rapid uptake of the sport put Uruguay in a great position to develop a strong national team. Uruguay played its first international game in 1902, just 20 years after the sport was brought to the country.
The Uruguayan National Team
Uruguay had a rough start to international soccer, losing 6-0 to Argentina in their first-ever game. However, this was the beginning of a near 15-year rivalry where the national team played Argentina approximately 30 more times.
Before 1916, the Copa América did not exist, so Uruguay’s opposition was limited to its noisy Argentinian neighbors.
These games proved to be extremely valuable for Uruguay. When the time came to compete against other South American sides, they consistently came out on top.
Uruguay won the first-ever Copa América in 1916 and followed up this win by retaining the title in 1917. There was no 1918 tournament so Uruguay entered the 1919 Copa América in pursuit of a three-peat.
However, the team fell short, losing to Brazil in a playoff game. The contest was the longest ever Copa América game as it featured two extra-time periods.
These early successes on the national stage marked the beginning of Uruguay’s golden era, where they went on to win every tournament they competed for. Uruguay won 4 out of a possible 9 Copa Américas in the 1920s, setting the stage for the inaugural World Cup in 1930.
Although most of Uruguay’s Copa América success occurred before 1942, they have won the tournament a record 15 times (equal to Argentina). Their most recent win came in 2011 when they defeated Paraguay 3-0 to lift el Trofeo de la Copa América.
The team featured several household names, including the goal scorers, Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan. Other notable stars who participated were Diego Lugano, Martin Caceres, Diego Godin, and Edison Cavani.
This victory ended a 15-year drought in the competition. Astonishingly, Uruguay captain, Diego Forlan set a record in the win, becoming the latest in his bloodline to become a Copa América champion.
“My grandfather won it, my father won it and now I have won it… It is a pride for the family… Three generations of my family have won this tournament – Forlan will be the last name in history of football.”Diego Forlan, 2011
Uruguay was the first South American team to participate in the Olympic games in 1924 (Paris). In this tournament, Uruguay displayed a typical South American style of play, incorporating short passing, skill, and possession tactics.
This contrasted significantly with the highly physical approach adopted by European teams.
The Uruguayan team won every game in the 1924 Olympics to claim the gold medal. Amsterdam was the host city of the 1928 Olympics. Uruguay defended its title by defeating Argentina in the gold medal game.
The final had to be replayed as the first game ended in a draw after extra time. At this point, penalty shootouts didn’t exist.
Uruguay And The World Cup
After their double Olympic heroics, Uruguay was chosen as the host for the very first World Cup in 1930. This was a huge occasion in the country as it occurred on the 100-year anniversary of the country’s constitution.
1930 World Cup
Following their Olympic successes, Uruguay entered the tournament as hot favorites. They managed to extend their form throughout the entire World Cup, winning every single game en route to the final.
The first World Cup final was held in Estadio Centenario, in the famous soccer city of Montevideo. Uruguay faced off against bitter rivals, Argentina. Despite trailing 2-1 at halftime, Uruguay rallied in the second half to emerge as eventual 4-2 winners.
Since then, the Estadio Centenario was classed as a historic monument by FIFA. It is the only stadium to be given this title.
Many European teams failed to make it to the first World Cup, citing the long journey as the primary obstacle. Unfortunately, this led to somewhat of a revolt, leading Uruguay and certain other South American nations to boycott the following two World Cups which took place in Europe.
Due to World War II, there no World Cups throughout the 1940s. This meant Uruguay had to wait 20 years to participate in the next tournament.
1950 World Cup
After a prolonged wait, Uruguay next participated in a World Cup in 1950. In their second ever attempt, Uruguay reached the final of the World Cup, facing Brazil, the host nation in the final. After going 1-0 down in the 47th minute, Uruguay once again came from behind to win 2-1.
Unlike their first World Cup triumph, this victory was seen as a major upset. The final is referred to famously as the Maracanazo since it took place in the Maracana Stadium. There were 173,850 people in the crowd that day.
The Greatest International Team Ever
With 15 Copa América titles, 2 World Cups, and 2 Olympic gold medals, Uruguay is the most successful international team in the history of soccer. As a country that has had a population of approximately 3.5 million people since the sport arrived on its shores, it is an amazing feat.
Uruguay Domestic League
The domestic league in Uruguay has been dominated by two teams since its establishment in 1900: Peñerol and Nacional. Peñerol has won the league 51 times, while Nacional has won it 48 times.
Three teams sit behind the two major franchises with 4 league titles apiece: Defensor Sporting, Danubio, and River Plate FC (not to be confused with River Plate from Argentina).
The Uruguayan Primera Division is seen as a relatively poor league among South American standards. However, the country still produces some world-class players, showing that they can still develop talent domestically.
Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.