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Uruguay’s 3-4-1-2: Will attacking promise overcome?

June 2, 2010

Uruguay will be keen to capitalise on their first chance at the World Cup finals in eight years. The holders of two World Cup trophies, including the first in 1930, and 1950 (Ghiggia vs Brazil) have been in a wilderness for 20 years – since 1990 they have only qualified for one tournament, in 2002, and Italia ‘90 was the last time they progressed past the group stage.

Oscar Tabarez, the coach, masterminded their performance at the 1990 World Cup, and has brought them through again in his second stint as national manager. Los Charrúas qualified through the playoff between the CONMEBOL and CONCACAF 5th and 4th placed teams respectively. Uruguay scraped into the playoffs by a point, and then beat Costa Rica 2-1 on aggregate to secure their place in Group A.

The Group is evenly matched with South Africa, the hosts, France, and Mexico, who are considered to be Uruguay’s main rivals for second spot, whilst France are favourites to finish top.

The squad contains some talented players, Atletico’s Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez of Ajax stand out from the rest. Forlan was their top scorer in qualification and has a good partnership with Suarez. Between them they netted 12 goals in the qualifiers.


Throughout his tenure Tabarez has been chopping and changing the tactics to find what fits the team best. Uruguay have used 4-4-2 in the campaign, but have also experimented with three at the back. The one consistent setup is in the two strikers, Forlan and Suarez are too important a pairing to leave out.

Uruguay’s preferred system is now somewhere between a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-1-2, with two central midfielders sitting between the wingbacks, and an attack-minded midfielder playing between the lines. In goal Muslera started the final two group matches and both playoff games, and will most likely claim the starting spot.

At the Back

The centre backs generally consist of a balance between Godin, who can come forward with the ball, Lugano, the ever-present captain in the centre and, either Scotti or Martin Caceres of Juventus is another experienced defender, who actually played twice as many minutes as Scotti in the qualifiers, but in recent games has been used as backup.

Uruguay’s defensive problems have been exposed when tested by the more difficult teams in the South American qualifiers; conceding four to Brazil at home was unprecendented for Uruguay, and the team also lost out to Argentina 2-1 in their most crucial final match.

Tabarez’s first choice wingbacks are Alvaro and Maxi Pereira, who are both flexible in their positioning, making them ideal to play the traditional wingback role. Their role consists covering the length of the pitch, helping out in defence, and then bombing forward to the byline in support of attacks. Fucile, a consistent performer at Porto, can provide cover for either wing back. In the image below Lodiero (blue) takes the early pass (thin yellow line) to A. Pereira who is making a rapid run forward. The layout of central midfield (blue), wingback (yellow) and attack (pink) can be seen clearly here.


In central midfield a duo of either Gargano, Perez or Eguren usually play the two defensive roles (see above diagram, in blue), with one looking to get forward more often, or play an early ball into the strikers feet, whilst the other sits back.

Playmaker Cristian Rodriguez lost his place in the World Cup squad after a sending off in the final group game against Argentina meant that he would have missed the first two group games. Due to the suspension young Nicolas Lodiero was used as the attacking midfielder in the playoff against Costa Rica where he made his senior debut. Lodiero started both legs, being chosen ahead of Ignacio Gonzales.

After highly acclaimed performances for Nacional, and at U21 level, Lodiero was bought by Ajax in January and his technique and skill are major attributes placing him in prime contention for a first team spot. He likes to take the ball past players in midfield, and set up the strikers, alternatively he can play the early ball from central midfield to either the wingers or strikers when pulled out wide. This is shown below, with Forlan (lower) and Suarez (upper) in pink making forward runs, whilst Lodiero in blue takes the ball forward and makes the incisive pass down the flank to Forlan.

In Attack

Going forward Uruguay possess two world class, lethal strikers in Suarez and Forlan who have both made a name in Europe. The team relies on quick link up play from the central midfield, with the likes of Lodiero, Eguren and Perez or the wingbacks in support. In the playoff against Costa Rica Lodiero was crucial to the outcome with his link up play to the front. Again here we see Lodiero (blue) playing the crucial ball (yellow line) into space behind the Costa Rica defence to Suarez (pink), while Forlan (pink) makes a run to the back post. This attacking trio is fast and well honed.

Their other method of attack is based on rapid movement from the flanks; the wingbacks either cutting inside or crossing. Both Pereiras like to put in crosses from the bylines for headers and knockdowns in the box. This physical team can put these away, as demonstrated by Forlan, Abreu and Suarez, and defenders coming forward, such as Lugano. In attack Forlan and Suarez are the greatest threats to the opposition that Uruguay possess, Forlan in particular likes to take his shots early, both he and Suarez have an eye for goal.


The team is well balanced, with plenty of cover in defence, midfield and attack. As well as Lodiero the older Ignacio Gonzales can play as an attacking midfielder and Eguren has played in the hole for Swedish club AIK this season. In attack Abreu is an experienced proven goalscorer, who knows how to use his strength; quality cover for the two lethal strikers.

3-4-1-2 allows an extra man coming forward from defence when playing against two strikers, but the Uruguayan centre backs struggle with pace, and can be left exposed. This is exacerbated as there is plenty of space behind the wing backs Alvaro and Maxi Periera. Teams who deploy three attackers will be able to exploit the problems that the three vs. Three situation presents, this is particularly pertinent in Group A as both Mexico and France are likely to use this system.

The squad is inherently flexible with multiple defenders and midfielders, meaning that Tabarez could choose to switch to a 4-4-2 if he wishes. However, after chopping and changing in the qualifiers he is now maintaining faith in the 3-4-1-2. The major concern for the team is the defensive lapses exemplified in qualifying, but the attacking strength of the team could pull them through the group stage.

History may not be on their side but this team can go far if they play to their strengths. Group A is very hard to call, but Tabarez has laid the groundwork for a decent performance, and the long term plans for the national side could see Uruguay reestablish themselves as a world footballing power.

A post by James Gillespie

Uruguay’s Final Squad

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera Lazio (ITA), Juan-Guillermo Castillo Deportivo Cali (COL), Martin Silva Defensor Sporting

Defenders: Diego Lugano Fenerbahce (TUR), Diego Godin Villarreal (ESP), Andres Scotti Colo Colo (CHI), Jorge Fucile Porto (POR), Martin Caceres Juventus (ITA), Mauricio Victorino Universidad de Chile (CHI), Maximiliano Pereira Benfica (POR)

Midfielders: Walter Gargano Napoli (ITA), Egidio Arevalo-Rios Penarol, Sebastian Eguren AIK (SWE), Diego Perez Monaco (FRA), Alvaro Pereira Porto (POR), Alvaro Fernandez Universidad de Chile (CHI), Ignacio Gonzalez Valencia (ESP), Nicolas Lodeiro Ajax (NED)

Forwards: Sebastian Fernandez Banfield (ARG), Luis Suarez Ajax (NED), Diego Forlan Atletico Madrid (ESP), Edinson Cavani Palermo (ITA), Sebastian Abreu Botafogo (BRA)

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