The whistles at the Centenario demanded more, but their team’s battle was won before kickoff in Montevideo. After last week’s 5-0 win in Amman, Uruguay had done enough to finish off Jordan. La Celeste were going to the 2014 World Cup. With the only question being ‘by what margin,’ there was no need to pile on.
At least, that’s the attitude Oscar Tabarez’s team was projecting, balancing respect for their opponent’s time with the urgency of an old calico absorbing midday sun. Given the sellout crowd’s urging, it was difficult to maintain that restraint. And at times, as the team got caught up in the moment and started taking on their defenders in search of a stats-padding score, their greed got the best of them.
So it was that the 2010 World Cup semifinalists dominated possession and shots but rarely elected to threaten Mohammed Shatnawi’s goal, instead holding steady in a setup that prevented the visiting Jordanians from testing Martín Silva until past the hour mark. After 30 more minutes, a frustrated crowd had to content themselves with their team having accomplished the ultimate goal. Uruguay’s 0-0 draw put the two-time winners into the 2014 World Cup, held by Jordan to a 0-0 draw.
That the final margin was still so decisive speaks to the extent the South American champions dominated last week’s opening leg. Goals by Maxi Pereira, Cristian Stuani, Nicolas Lodeiro, Christian Rodríguez and Edinson Cavani saw the Uruguayans eliminate all doubt before leaving Amman International Stadium, star attacker Luis Suárez’s contributions not needed for a team that finished fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying. Like the Mexican national team again New Zealand, they had made a mockery of the intercontinental playoffs. And like El Tri, they were left trying to restrain themselves over a final, senseless 90 minutes.
Starting the same team tonight, fans saw vastly different results, yet the two-time World Cup champions still booked their second consecutive place in the finals, becoming the last team to clinch a spot in Brazil 2014. Their number six world ranking also allows them to join Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland as seeded teams in Dec. 6’s group stage draw.
The extent to which they live up to that seeding depends on which team shows up. Like the divide between these two playoff legs, Uruguay has been two vastly different teams over the last four years. The team that claimed 2010’s semifinal appearance and 2011’s Copa America championship struggled to make it through CONMEBOL’s qualifying gauntlet, La Celeste eventually receding into the playoff spot. Once there, they were always heavy favorites to make it to Brazil, but their need to play with Jordan for 180 minutes spoke to their struggles post-Copa.
If Tabarez can rekindle 2011’s form, Uruguay can be a major threat. More likely, he’ll have to apply the lessons learned from a humbling qualifying campaign. Given what we saw in 2010, it’s not too much to expect him to find another way to make a country of 3.4 million play like one of the world’s giants.