On a map, Uruguay is sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil. Despite a much smaller population, the country more than holds its own on the field when it comes to football.
This year the Uruguayan team commonly referred to as the Celeste, or Sky Blue, is considered one of the favorites to challenge for the Copa America in Brazil.
It’s in large part thanks to the work of its manager, Oscar Tabarez.
CGTN’s Joel Richards reports from Montevideo.
In Uruguay, seeing the national football team play at the famous Centenario stadium is a rite of passage.
“I am going to enjoy this game with my son. It is the first time we’re seeing a match together, and I am very happy to be able to pass that love for the team and the country on to him and this land where we were all born,” said a Uruguay fan.
In a country of around three and a half million people ,the success of the national team is a source of pride. Uruguay won the first World Cup at this stadium, in 1930. And in the past decade, the team, also called the Celeste, has also produced historic performances in the World Cup, and the Copa America.
The team is now lead by stars including strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and captain Diego Godin. The players are part of a long-term project that has been overseen by their coach.
“Tabarez brought aspects that for other coaches were not so important. He wanted players who are not only good with the ball at their feet, but he also wanted to strengthen the broader idea of personal development of the players,” said, Luis Inzaurralde, author of the book “The Tabarez Legacy”.
Tabarez returned for a second run as Uruguay coach in 2006 and has lead them to the World Cup semifinals in 2010 and to victory in the 2011 Copa America.
And in the next three years, Uruguay will play in two Copa America competitions and the 2022 World Cup qualification.
“He (Tabarez) has a historic opportunity in these three years to consolidate the project on the international stage with success – to establish Uruguay’s process of national teams transformation and put it alongside the very elite,” said Inzaurralde
Faced with the immediate challenge of this year’s Copa America, Tabarez is not one to get ahead of himself.
“History is written once the tournament starts, while we are playing and in every single game,” said Oscar Tabarez.
But supporters have good reason to be optimistic.
With 15 titles, Uruguay has won the Copa America more than any other nation. In addition to tradition and that past success, the squad this year boasts youth and experience, and it makes them one of the favorites to win in Brazil.
Uruguay may not boast the same resources as its neighbors Brazil or Argentina, but few will want to face Tabarez and his players at this Copa America.