Copa America team preview: Uruguay ready to shake up South America

Copa America team preview: Uruguay ready to shake up South America

It has been 13 years since Uruguay last lifted the Copa America trophy having beaten Paraguay 3-0 in the 2011 edition in Argentina and this summer could see the 15-time winners become the sole nation at the top of the competitions honours list.

La Celeste have been a team transformed since Marcelo Bielsa took over the South American nation last year with the former Leeds United boss bringing his thrilling style of football back to the international scene.

Uruguay currently sit second behind Argentina in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying after six games and look the biggest threat to the defending Copa America champions this summer in the United States.

Bielsa’s men defeated Lionel Messi and friends 2-0 last November and that will give them a lot of confidence in overcoming the World Cup champions. Uruguay also arrive at the 2024 Copa America in great form having hammered Mexico 4-0 in their final pre-tournament friendly.

That game saw Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez score a hat-trick and Bielsa will need the unorthodox striker to be on top form if they are to be crowned champions of South America over the next month. If not, La Celeste have other weapons, which is why they are the nation Argentina will have the closest eye on throughout their time in the United States.

Previous Copa America finish

Uruguay’s last Copa America appearance in 2021 was underwhelming as despite not being as good as the current group of players, the expectations would have been to at least reach the semi-finals. However, Oscar Tabárez’s side were eliminated on penalties by Colombia at the quarter-final stage.

La Celeste finished second in their group behind eventual winners Argentina, winning two and drawing one of their four games. That led them to play Colombia rather than an easier Ecuador, which resulted in their elimination.

A disappointing World Cup in 2022 would follow their Copa America disappointment, but Bielsa’s team have come a long way since then.

Copa America 2021 was a disappointment for Uruguay

Uruguay’s 2024 Copa America squad

Uruguay are not a team with many standout names but the stars they do have are pretty special.

Ronald Araujo, Jose Maria Gimenez, Manuel Ugarte, Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez are all at some of the biggest clubs in the world and will be names casual fans of South American football will recognise.

One player to keep an eye on is Flamengo’s Nicolas de la Cruz, who is a well-known figure for followers of South American club football. The 27-year-old is one of Uruguay’s biggest creative threats and has been very useful for Bielsa as the midfielder is a versatile player, who can play as a central midfielder and on the wing.

Goalkeepers

Sergio Rochet (Internacional), Santiago Mele (Atletico Junior), Franco Israel (Sporting Lisbon)

Defenders

Ronald Araujo (Barcelona), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Marichal (Dinamo Moscow), Matias Vina (Flamengo), Lucas Olaza (Krasnodar), Mathias Olivera (Napoli), Sebastian Caceres (Club America), Guillermo Varela (Flamengo), Nahitan Nandez (Cagliari)

Midfielders

Manuel Ugarte (PSG), Rodrigo Bentancur (Tottenham), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Emiliano Martinez (Midtjylland), Nicolas de la Cruz (Flamengo), Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Flamengo)

Forwards

Luis Suarez (Inter Miami), Darwin Nunez (Liverpool), Agustin Canobbio (Athletico Paranaense), Brian Rodriguez (Club America), Brian Ocampo (Cadiz), Facundo Pellistri (Manchester United), Maximiliano Araujo (Toluca), Cristian Olivera (LAFC)

Expected starting 11

Uruguay, like many of the top nations in South America, like to set up in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation but it is a team Bielsa may tinker with.

La Celeste set up in the latter for their most recent match against Mexico, but that line-up did not contain all of their big stars.

Throughout their 2024 Copa America campaign, Uruguay should look something like the following.

Key player

Federico Valverde

It is hard to say who Uruguay’s most important player is as Marcelo Bielsa will need Darwin Nunez to find the back of the net if they are to go far in the competition, while needing Ronald Araujo to show his world-class ability at the back; however, the main man for La Celeste is likely to be their captain, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde.

The 25-year-old was once again a key player for the La Liga giants this season as they completed the Spanish league and Champions League double, with the midfielder featuring in 54 games for Los Blancos, scoring three goals and assisting a further eight.

Valverde is useful on both sides of the ball as the Real Madrid star epitomises the word energy; the Uruguay captain makes runs forward and has the ability to score a stunner from time to time, while also being a part of the defensive work with his aggression and speed to recover.

The 25-year-old is also very versatile and can essentially play anywhere on the pitch. This is always a useful thing to have in tournaments such as Copa America as it is hard to predict what gets thrown up in terms of injuries and what a team might need on the day.

Valverde will not be able to do it all on his own this summer in America, but a high-performing Real Madrid star will go a long way in helping Bielsa’s men be victorious over the coming month.

Can Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde guide Uruguay to Copa America success?

Predicted finish

Uruguay are in a good place heading into the 2024 edition of Copa America and have the tools to win the tournament. However, they will likely fall short and end the month as Runners-Up.

Bielsa’s men should top their group as it is an easy one for them alongside the USA, Panama and Bolivia. That will likely set up a quarter-final clash with Colombia, which will be a tough matchup for La Celeste. Victory in that difficult tie would fuel their confidence further and that could see them overcome Brazil in the semi-finals.

Leaving defending champions Argentina between Uruguay and their first Copa America since 2011, which the World Cup winners will be favourites to win.

Marcelo Bielsa’s men have a very tough run if they are to win Copa America this summer but this Uruguay team is dangerous, and they seem ready to ruffle a few feathers in the United States.

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