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Soccer-World-Uruguay aim to match 2010 semi-final spot at least

Reuters

MONTEVIDEO, June 6 (Reuters) - Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez believes his team have two key advantages in Brazil: their Confederations Cup experience there last year and the near-perfect footballing age of key players.

Luis Suarez, Uruguay's record scorer with 39 goals who may take some time to regain match fitness after knee cartilage surgery, and strike partner Edinson Cavani are both 27.

He would not go as far as saying that Uruguay can repeat their 1950 World Cup success in Brazil, but he would not rule out reaching the latter stages, as they did in South Africa four years ago.

"What happened in 1950 was a long time ago, a different era," Tabarez told Reuters in a recent interview, "but it won't be easy to beat us. Brazil found it hard to beat us last year. We could cause some surprises and go a long way."

Last year's Confederations Cup gave the reigning South American champions experience of the conditions teams can expect at the tournament, including climate at venues separated in some cases by thousands of kilometres, which Tabarez said had been good.

Uruguay's World Cup exploits in Brazil 64 years ago hold great memories for Uruguay but bad memories for Brazilian fans old enough to remember the pain of losing the decider at the 1950 finals - the only other time Brazil has hosted the soccer extravaganza.

Their 2-1 victory over Brazil on July 16, 1950, known as the "Maracanazo", gave Uruguay their second title and might even give Tabarez's team an added boost in a tight group that includes former champions Italy and England as well as Central American outsiders Costa Rica.

STABLE SET-UP

Continuity is the key for this Uruguayan generation, benefiting from a stable set-up under Tabarez, who has been in charge in his second spell as head coach since 2006 and will be the longest-serving coach at the finals.

Uruguay will play a similar game, based on a 4-4-2 formation, that took them to the semi-finals in South Africa four years ago and is reminiscent of classic Italian teams.

Cristian "Cebolla" (Onion) Rodriguez, who was suspended from the 2010 tournament, is the usual starter in the role behind the strikers that Diego Forlan occupied at the previous finals.

The midfield trio will include two and at times three defensive players chosen from Egidio Arevalo Rios, Walter Gargano, Diego Perez, all South Africa veterans, and Alvaro Gonzalez.

Tabarez has said he feels no guilt espousing defensive tactics, telling Reuters: "We work very well in defence, I love that kind of thing. I'm not ashamed, as if to play defensively were a bad word.

"Football is defence and attack and attacking is very much linked to what one does in defence, and we don't have a team to take the game to our opponents nor that many players.

"As a small country we don't have many options. When you find something that works for you, you stick to it."

The reliable Fernando Muslera is still in goal and the defence is still built around captain Diego Lugano partnered in the centre by a maturing Diego Godin with Maxi Pereira at right back and Martin Caceres on the left, which points to a settled if not hugely gifted side.

Generational turnover comes in the form mainly of forwards Gaston Ramirez and Christian Stuani, while Nicolas Lodeiro is a more creative alternative to Rodriguez in the attacking midfield role.

Uruguay are more than the sum of their parts even if they boast one of the world's best players in Suarez, who had an exceptional season with Liverpool in England with all the attributes of a match-winner.

They will be hoping he is soon fit enough to turn out for them in Brazil. He had keyhole surgery on May 22, three weeks before the start of the tournament, but kept his place in Tabarez's squad. (Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Mike Collett)

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