The UP 2024 Copa America Preview, Pt. 2: Uruguay’s Garra Charrúa Spirit Has It Determined to Lift a Trophy

Marcelo Bielsa has taken the Uruguayan national team and changed its style of play, and it is without question one of the top picks to win the Copa America this summer. With the United States, Panama, and Bolivia in its group, we take a look at Uruguay’s potential road to Copa America glory. 

Uruguay has a long-standing tradition in the Copa America, tied with Argentina for the most titles (15). However, it’s been a decade since La Celeste has hoisted the trophy, last winning in 2011 under the guidance of the man who saved Uruguayan soccer, Óscar Washington Tabárez.

oscar washington tabarez

Under Tabárez, Uruguay cleaned house and rebuilt its program under the pillars of respect, competition, and above all else trying to bring a modern approach to the conservative Uruguayan way. It worked — Tabárez got Uruguay to three straight World Cups, finishing semifinalist and sixth in two editions, while winning the Copa America, defeating Argentina along the way before a resounding 3-0 win over Paraguay in the final.

“El Proceso” under Tabárez had brought about a system of play and structure to the national team that was never seen before. There was a direct link from the U15s to the senior national team, and Tabárez discovered and helped bring to the professional forefront players like Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Federico Valverde, and Rodrigo Bentancur.

After “El Maestro’s” time with the national team was abruptly ended in 2021 and former Inter Miami boss Diego Alonso laid an egg at Qatar 2022 with a shocking first round exit, the powers that be in the Uruguayan soccer federation wanted to think big for a group of players now playing at Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Inter Milan, among others.

The AUF made a major statement and hired Argentine and former Leeds United boss, Marcelo Bielsa.

Bielsa: The Ace Up Uruguay’s Sleeve

marcelo bielsa

Bielsa entered his job as Uruguay’s head coach understanding that the pillars for success were left by Tabarez. Now it was a matter of taking it up a few steps.

In an unconventional way for the normally conservative Uruguay, Bielsa reviewed the AUF’s training facilities and began requesting changes before he had even taken the pitch with his new team. Soon after, some long-time staff members were shown the door.

Then the manager got to work, and in typical Bielsa fashion he dumped the old and started working on the new, first and foremost making Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez the team’s go-to striker. He also began to integrate youngsters like Luciano Rodriguez, Cristian Olivera, and Manuel Ugarte.

Bielsa would continue his work with a 4-3-3 formation where his players rotate, defend with pressure, and move up the field with straight passing. As a result, Uruguay became faster, deadlier, and most importantly more dynamic.

So far so good for the Argentine — Bielsa has a 6-1-2 record that includes two shutout wins against Brazil and Argentina in World Cup qualifying.

Uruguay’s Tactics

Uruguay plays a similar formation to the United States, but the 4-3-3 under Bielsa shifts and moves depending on the flow of the game. Bielsa is an expert in getting his team to pressure the defense, get players in front of the ball, and go wide and attack via wing play.

Bielsa has always had strong wingers, and with Uruguay he has a lot to choose from. Club America’s Brian Rodríguez and Orlando City’s Facundo Torres are familiar faces, then there is the youthful mix of Olivera, Agustín Canobbio, Luciano Rodríguez, and Facundo Pellistri.

The supposed “murder ball” of Bielsa is not present on Uruguay, as the team has the flowing attacking style Bielsa enjoys, but also continues to have its traditional way of defending. Hard-nosed, tough, and quite organized.

Uruguay’s Main Stars

Uruguay has a sea of great talents to pick from: Núñez, Betancur, Valverde, Luis Suárez, Giorgian de Arrascaeta, Nicolás de la Cruz, Ronald Araújo, and José María Giménez are the core of Bielsa’s A-list talents.

Then there is Luciano Rodríguez, by far one of the players to watch in the 2024 Copa America. The 20-year-old Liverpool of Montevideo forward has strong interest from Manchester City and could very well become Uruguay’s all time highest outgoing transfer fee domestically.

Rodríguez is skilled, has great technique in front of goal, and has been one of the key figures of Liverpool Montevideo’s four titles in two years.

Uruguay’s Weaknesses

At times Uruguay is prone to getting caught off guard and has difficulty covering space. While that issue can be exploited, Uruguay is very tidy in defense. Against Argentina in its 2-0 win in World Cup qualifying at La Bombonera, Bielsa fielded a 4-2-3-1, but more importantly cut off passing lanes for Lionel Messi all game long.

Outlook for Uruguay

Uruguay is riding a major wave. Bielsa has the team playing a refreshing style of soccer and major wins over Argentina and Brazil were major endorsements for the new manager. While Uruguayans may not want to publicly say anything, the writing is on the wall: this team is a prime contender to win the 2024 Copa America, and it should be a team that makes it to the final.

Uruguay has nothing to fear when looking at the big boys Argentina and Brazil. La Celeste has knocked down the South American kingpins multiple times, including Brazil in the 1983 and 1995 finals, and Argentina in the 1987 semifinals and 2011 quarterfinals.

In 2024, Uruguay has the chance (and a very good one at that) to bring home a record 16th title. Don’t count Bielsa’s side out.

Leave a Reply