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Uruguay weathered a storm in the CONMEBOL qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and finally booked their place at their fourth consecutive world finals.

There was one major casualty on their stormy journey to Qatar, however, as Oscar Washington Tabarez’s illustrious 15-year tenure as Celeste coach was brought to an end, with Diego Alonso coming in to replace him. The new man promptly oversaw four wins in as many games as Uruguay sealed their place at the biggest event of them all.

Having put their setbacks behind them, Uruguay will now go in search of their third World Cup Trophy, with expectations as high as ever in a country that always competes with its trademark grit and determination. For a nation with a little over three million inhabitants, Uruguay invariably have a surprising amount of talent at their disposal.

La Celeste will head to Qatar with a blend of legendary names anxious to keep on performing on the international stage and youngsters catching the eye of Europe’s big clubs. The following five players to watch will be crucial to their chances of success at this year’s world finals.

Sergio Rochet
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 29

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Fernando Muslera is a living legend and has had a big hand in Uruguay’s success of the last decade. The man between the posts at South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018, Muslera was also part of the side that won the 2011 Copa America in Argentina.

An untimely injury picked up during coach Alonso’s first international double-header caused him to lose his place, however, and when the veteran keeper regained fitness, the Uruguay boss decided to stick with the man he had brought in to replace him: Sergio Rochet.

Rochet has come a long way in a short space of time. Having left Uruguay at a young age to try his luck in Europe, first with AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands and then with Sivasspor in Turkey – with varying degrees of success – he came home to play for Nacional. A starting place was hard to come by at first but when he eventually nailed it down, he became a leading figure. The keeper showed his solidity and consistency by going more than a thousand minutes without conceding a goal in the league, the Copa Libertadores, the Copa Sudamericana and two international friendlies.

Appointed captain at El Bolso until Luis Suarez’s arrival, Rochet possesses quick reflexes and is a formidable presence in the air and in one-on-one situations. And as he has shown already in his short international career, he is also a commanding voice in the Celeste rearguard.

Federico Valverde
Position: Midfielder
Age: 24

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Few Uruguay players are in better form than Valverde, a hugely versatile midfielder who at the age of only 24 is making waves with Real Madrid and has become as irreplaceable for the Spanish giants as he is for his country.

Capable of performing a number of different functions in different positions, even during the course of a match, Valverde is a tireless performer with a huge work rate and has added an attacking dimension to his game. He showed his box-to-box capabilities in the latest Madrid derby, scoring his side’s second in a 2-1 win, his fourth goal of the season to date.

The kind of player every coach dreams of having, Valverde is Real Madrid’s third striker, fourth midfielder and fifth defender rolled into one. In addition to his ability to cover every blade of grass and his characteristic Uruguayan grit, he offers vision, an eye for goal and a gift for reading the game. “I said to him that if he doesn’t score more than ten goals, I’ll tear up my coaching badge,” said his club coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Not the type to shout and scream, Valverde leads by example on and off the pitch. Though his name does not often come up when the topic of discussion is the greatest players in the game today, he deserves a place among them and will be vital to his country’s hopes in Qatar.

Edinson Cavani
Position: Striker
Age: 35

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After a seemingly endless transfer window, the legendary Charrúa front man finally signed on the dotted line for Valencia, having flirted with a move to Boca Juniors.

Regular appearances in La Liga will do his Qatar 2022 prospects no harm and will give him the opportunity to show he still has what it wakes after a final season at Manchester United in which he enjoyed little first-team football. Though perhaps not the force he once was, Cavani remains a top-level forward who never lets his country down.

In recent years he has become an out-and-out centre forward, having been deployed on the flank earlier in his career, not least when sharing striking duties with Luis Suarez for Uruguay. Despite his more central brief, however, he can still be seen dropping out of the area on occasion and linking up with his team-mates.

“I’ve always been a forward who believes that the best way to achieve objectives is to work hard,” he said on joining Valencia. “I’ve never felt like I was a phenomenon or that I had amazing gifts. I’ve had to work hard in my career. I’ve had to push myself to the limit to achieve what I’ve achieved. That’s because although I have quality, though there are others who have a lot more than me. Those of us who have less quality have to make up for it with hard work.”

A Celeste legend with 54 goals in 128 appearances, Cavani is set to appear at his fourth World Cup, having graced South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018, where he scored twice against Portugal in the last 16 but missed the quarter-final defeat to France.

Darwin Nunez
Position: Striker
Age: 23

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With Cavani and Suarez in the twilight of their careers, the emergence of Nunez has gone some way to answering doubts about the future of Uruguay’s front line. A Penarol youth product, Nunez spent time at Almeria in Spain before finding his place with Benfica in Portugal. His performances there led to Liverpool splashing out an initial €75m on the latest Celeste phenomenon, with the fee rising a potential €25m with add-ons.

Physically strong, Nunez possesses a rare blend of abilities that make him a handful inside and outside the box. With his devastating turn of speed, he can create chances out of nothing and he has also has a gift for detecting and attacking space.

A formidable opponent in open play, the Uruguayan tends to sit out on the left but can also take up position down the middle and play as a target man, which is where Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has been deploying him.

Luis Suarez
Position: Striker
Age: 35

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El Pistolero’s long and exciting World Cup career has one more chapter left to run, as he readies himself for a fourth world finals appearance. His recent return to Nacional was proof that romance lives on in the game, as Bolso fans launched a massive and ultimately successful campaign on social media in an effort to bring him to back to the club where he began his professional career.

In making their dreams a reality by coming home in preparation for his last World Cup, Suarez brought tears to the eyes of Nacional diehards and Uruguayan football fans in general. Regarded as one of the greatest players South America has ever produced, he has successfully answered the critics throughout his career. When Barcelona decided he had little left to offer them, Suarez proved a point by going to Atletico Madrid and top-scoring for them in the 2020/21 season to fire them to the Spanish league title.

A born fighter, Suarez encapsulates the grit that Uruguay are known for. Allied to his voracious appetite for goals and magical touch is a never-say-die attitude. Though his best days are behind him, he remains central to Celeste hopes.

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