Copa America the last stand for Suarez, Godin, Cavani as Uruguay's next wave arrives
For 13 years, Uruguay has been a different country every time Oscar Washington Tabarez's team takes the pitch. No Uruguayan citizen remains indifferent when La Celeste takes part in a tournament, producing unusual reactions in a country that is not prone to excess.
Since 2006, Uruguay have played a starring role in Copa Americas and World Cups, and their best players have become absolute idols for their people. But time passes for everyone, and most of the leading names of those days are now gone. Diego Lugano, Diego Forlan, Sebastian Abreu and many others have passed the baton to Diego Godin, Fernando Muslera, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
And now, going into the 2019 Copa America, it is that quartet who is approaching its last battles. That's why the four of them are aiming for the title. They want to lift, one more time, the cup that no other national team has won as many times as Uruguay have.
The commitment to returning from Brazil with the title drives a group that looks up to them. These four footballers are seeking to reassert the mark they have already left following their presence at three straight World Cups.
Godin (33) has just ended a historical spell with Atletico Madrid and is moving to Inter. He has been national team captain since their 2014 World Cup match against England, and he's Uruguay's most capped player of all time. His leadership is indisputable, as is his calling to aid in the development of his younger teammates.
Muslera (32) is the most capped goalkeeper. He made his debut at a critical time during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and he delivered. Since then, there have been no doubts as to who should keep goal for Uruguay.
Suarez (32) is La Celeste's all-time leading scorer, and even though he won't be fully recovered from his right knee surgery, he will be there for his team as he has done so many times before. He underwent surgery days before Brazil 2014 and he played anyway. He tore a muscle before Copa America 2016 in the United States and still made himself available. He got injured before facing Argentina in the World Cup qualifiers and played anyway. This time won't be the exception.
Cavani (32) arrives after an erratic year at Paris Saint-Germain, but his numbers with the national team are always promising. He's played 110 games and scored 47 goals. Besides, he has always been ready to play any role, even when Tabarez used him on the flanks or behind the front line.
The squad Tabarez has selected to play the Copa America in Brazil shows, once more, that they´re aiming at the renovation of the team. There are six players who didn't go to Russia.
The coach is obviously looking for options on the flanks, and he´s betting on Giovanni Gonzalez (24) and Marcelo Saracchi (21). They will replace Guillermo Varela, who had a poor World Cup and has been even worse since, and Maxi Pereira, who retired from international competition. The other change is that Diego Laxalt, who was deployed as a midfielder, will play a defensive role in place of Gaston Silva.
In midfield, Federico Valverde (20) has earned his place. He never looked back after being undeservedly cut before the last World Cup; instead, he overcame his sadness, got stronger at Real Madrid, and after having worked really hard, he got what he deserved. Gaston Pereiro (23) is also in the team. On the other hand, Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez no longer are.
Valverde and Pereiro will join Lucas Torreira (23), Rodrigo Bentancur (21), Nahitan Nandez (23), Matias Vecino (27) and Giorgian De Arrascaeta (24). All of them are young and talented. The midfield should be the engine of a team, and one name that stands out there is Nicolas Lodeiro (30), who will have a role there after the change made with Laxalt.
Beyond names, the big secret during all these years is that the team has always been more important than individual stars. And this time around it will be no exception. This is how the Celeste will travel to Brazil... Hoping to turn Uruguay into the land of soccer smiles once again.