(Reuters) - Factbox on the Uruguay national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 17 (till June 7)
Uruguay have played in 12 World Cups and have won the tournament twice, as hosts in the inaugural edition in 1930 and again in 1950 in Brazil. After failing to qualify for the 2006 event in Germany, they sprang a surprise by reaching the semi-finals in South Africa four years later. Uruguay reached the round of 16 in Brazil in 2014, where they were beaten by fellow South Americans Colombia.
Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Tabarez, 71, took charge of Uruguay for a second spell in 2006 and the coach, fondly known as ‘El Maestro’, will lead the national team into their third consecutive World Cup since they failed to qualify in the year of his appointment. Tabarez, whose previous stint with Uruguay was between 1988-90, guided the team to a record 15th Copa America title in 2011 and fourth place in the 2010 World Cup. A coach who has excelled in building teams with a mixture of youth and experience, Tabarez introduced many young players who played key roles during Uruguay’s qualifying campaign. The veteran coach has in the past preferred a system that hinges on sturdy defending and counter-punching although he has shown flexibility in his approach more recently.
Luis Suarez: The mercurial striker will hope for a controversy-free event after he was handed a lengthy ban from soccer for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during a group-stage encounter in Brazil four years ago. The 31-year-old has worked on his discipline since moving to Spanish side Barcelona in 2014 and continues to plunder goals at the club level. Suarez netted five times in Uruguay’s qualifying campaign and stamped his authority as the national team’s all-time leading scorer with his 50th goal during the China Cup tournament earlier this year.
Edinson Cavani: The powerful forward was the top scorer for Uruguay during their World Cup qualifying campaign with 10 goals and finished ahead of players such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who had seven, and Brazil’s Neymar, who had six. The Paris St Germain striker will attempt to improve his World Cup scoring record in Russia, with the 31-year-old having found the net just twice in 10 games at the main tournament.
Diego Godin: With more than 100 appearances for the national team, the Atletico Madrid defender offers valuable experience at the heart of Uruguay’s defence. The 32-year-old has shown that he can be equally effective when required at the other end of the pitch, scoring three goals early on in qualifying.
After reaching the World Cup finals with relative ease, Uruguay were held to a goalless draw by Poland and were beaten 2-1 by Austria in forgettable international friendlies at the end of last year. However, they beat the Czech Republic 2-0 in their China Cup opener before edging past Wales 1-0 to lift the title in March.
How they qualified:
After progressing to the World Cup via playoffs in their previous two attempts, Uruguay sealed an automatic berth this year after they finished second in South American qualifying, behind Brazil and ahead of Argentina. Tabarez’s side won nine of their 18 games and scored 32 goals in the process, bettered only by five-times world champions Brazil, who had 41 goals.
Uruguay have never failed to get out of the group stages under Tabarez and the former champions will consider themselves firm favourites to advance from Group A, which also features hosts Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, Uruguay could face a tough test in the round of 16 with Spain or Portugal their likely opponents.
Compiled by Shrivathsa Sridhar; Editing by John O'Brien