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History of Uruguayan Men’s Football – A Big Lesson to Learn!
Football and Human Development
Uruguay’s performance in the 2010 World Cup comes as little surprise to many people who have followed its victories and dreams. The Uruguayan team, a fierce competitor, took a quantum leap forward in 1997 as they came close to winning the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, finishing ahead of Ghana and Ireland. Since then, the national team did not win the tournament, but they are paving the way for the Uruguayan World Cup football team in South Africa in June 2010.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the eyes of the world were focused on Uruguay. Why? The national team – made up of mostly unknown players – became one of the top four teams in the world, beating out the bookies’ favourite, Brazil – made up of world famous footballers. After beating four teams: South Africa, Mexico, South Korea and Ghana, the nation – which had traditionally been a leader in the first half of the 20th century – is the first Latin American country in 8 years to reach the knockout stages the men. finals.
Uruguay’s achievement came despite a series of obstacles: a small nation of around 4 million people, an exodus of players, a lack of sponsors and traditional rivals (Brazil and Argentina). In addition to these obstacles, the country holds one of the lowest sports budgets in the Western Hemisphere. However, two factors have contributed to the development of football: human development and determination.
1) – Human Development: Because of its remarkable human development – health care, nutrition, education and recreation – Uruguay is widely regarded as one of the most stable democratic countries in the developing world – the envy of many Spanish-speaking republics in the region – since the middle the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, the UNDP Human Development Index ranked Uruguay — which lacks mineral resources such as oil, gas, silver and gold — 32nd out of 173 nations and dependencies. In other words, one of the government’s first priorities is to improve the lives of Uruguay’s children. In fact, these policies have contributed to improving the country’s athletic performance, as well as the national pride. As a result, the national under-17 football team won the right to compete in the 1991 World Junior Championships, a participation it repeated in 1999, 2005 and 2009.
2) – Determination and Passion: If one word could describe the Uruguayan team, it is “determination”. Although they included unknown players, the national team did not feel threatened by world-renowned squads such as France (who failed to measure up to predictions), Germany and the Netherlands. At the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay, one of the smallest republics geographically in the Western Hemisphere, won the respect of fans and pundits for their determination and passion. Since then, they, the Uruguayan squad, were aware of the nation’s history as one of football’s greatest pioneers. Without a doubt, these players are a symbol of hope and courage.
Dictatorship and Football
Following the 1973 auto coup, the nation’s Head of State at the time, José María Bordaberry, an anti-Marxist strongman, established a de facto dictatorship, after which Uruguay was identified by several people. The country’s international image had been damaged by poor human rights and the rule’s anti-democratic projects. Under this atmosphere, sport was not one of the priorities of Uruguayan dictators, unlike other dictators in the region, including Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina (1976-1981) and Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru (1968-1975) .
Year after year, the military regime overturned most of the Olympic policies. In fact, football, which had cultivated a national identity in the first half of the 20th century, entered a period of decline. After Uruguay’s participation in the World Cup in West Germany in June 1974, where it came in 14th place, the nation, for example, lost the chance to win an Olympic medal as it refused to send football players to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal (Canada). Still, its most unsuccessful year was 1977 when Uruguay lost 1-0 to Bolivia and could not compete in the 1978 World Cup. Undoubtedly, the Uruguayan players, who had once defeated Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, were plagued by poor morale.
By July 1979, surprisingly, the national team was not competing in the Pan American Games in San Juan de Puerto Rico (where they were the heavy favourites). But not for lack of talent. Before this multi-sport meeting, Uruguayan players claimed the 1979 South American Under-20 Tournament. By the early 1980s, he decided not to participate in the Continental Olympic Tournament in Colombia. What’s more, despite lifting the Gold Cup in Montevideo, the team, once again, failed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup as they were unable to win the South American Elimination.
Amid economic stagnation, corruption and human rights abuses, up to 200 football players left the nation. On the other hand, in 1984, the anti-Communist dictatorship resigned after 11 years.
Once Upon a Time in Uruguay…
Over the first half of the 20th century, Uruguay – slightly smaller than Missouri – wrote one of the most notable chapters in Latin American history as the country won praise from the international community for supporting democracy, human rights and human development. As a result, Uruguay, which had one of the highest per capita incomes in the Western Hemisphere, was compared to Switzerland and other European countries. Parallel to this, the Spanish-speaking republic had one of the most important Olympic projects on the American mainland.
In fact, sports, along with education, were a high priority in Uruguayan rule. During this period – considered the “Golden Age” in Uruguayan history – the national team was the football leader on the Planet. Since then, football stars, including Obdulio Varela – who led the national team to win the 1950 FIFA World Cup – José Nasazzi and Pedro Cea – who led the Uruguayan Olympic football team that won gold medals in Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928- – known in schools, universities and factories.
At their peak, the Uruguayan squad – a great pride of Latin America – won consecutive Olympic football gold medals in 1924 – at that time no other Latin American country had even won the Olympian’s trophy – and 1928, as well winning the first ever men’s World Cup title in 1930. These victories, on the other hand, are considered among football’s most notable stories, which inspired Brazil to produce teams of the caliber foremost Yet the most outstanding performance came in 1950. In that year, Uruguay’s national football team made glory as they defeated host country Brazil and lifted the world title, an event held at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The country’s victory is a milestone in football history.
These achievements gave the South American nation a reputation in the world that was disproportionate to its size and population. Certainly, the democratic system did a lot to win international meetings. Unfortunately these gains did not last as the military dictatorship was established in the early 70’s.
Uruguay – A Country that Loves Sports
Since the 1970s, the governments have not given a high priority to sport. Despite this, Uruguay – with a population of 4 million – has had extraordinary champions, including Ana Maria Norbis (aquatics), Fiorella Bonicelli (tennis), Sergio Lafuente (weightlifting) and Ricardo Vera (track and field). Meanwhile, his basketball players were also particularly successful. In the Colombian FIBA World Championships in the early 80s, the Uruguayan athlete Wilfredo Ruiz was the first leading scorer. Two years later, in 1984, for example, the national basketball team beat Canada and won the right to compete in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics (where they finished sixth). Previously, Uruguay was the only Latin American team to win two Olympic basketball bronze medals in a row.
Apart from football and basketball, Uruguay has won praise for its international cyclists and rowers. In the 80s, the country’s rower, Jesús Posse came close to winning the gold medal at the World Championships, an international meeting dominated by Eastern Europe. In the 2000 Summer Games in Oceania, cyclist Milton Wybnants came second, behind Juan Llaneras from Spain.
Finally, the Uruguayan government should design an ambitious program to put Uruguay – sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of America” - in the top ten countries in the world of sports in this century. Like South Korea, one of the world’s most successful Olympic nations since 1988, this Spanish-speaking republic should think big.
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