Both of them were born in 1987. Both of them can score a goal with the right foot as well as with the left one. Both of them can flash the ball into the net with a header, from inside the box and on a set piece.
Above all, both of them are current top scorers in their respective leagues and share the same homeland – Uruguay. The national team will partecipate in an international competition to be held in Brazil. Paradoxically, it might be the Confederations Cup rather than the more prestigious World Cup.
Despite boasting Edinson Cavani, Serie A’s most prolific striker, and his Premier League counterpart Luis Suárez, La Celeste are unexpectedly struggling on their road to the main event, with serious possibilities to be eliminated.
Uruguay, allegedly considered the craddle of South American football alongisde Argentina and Brazil, were a terrific side in the 1920s and 1930s but had to wait more than half-a-century for a new, talented generation. The Uruguayans progressed to the semi-finals in 2010, led by the goals of ex-Manchester United forward Diego Forlán and, most of all, coached by well-prepared manager Oscar Tabárez.
The fourth place in South Africa, where they lost to the Netherlands in the semi-finals without the likes of Nicolás Lodeiro, captain Diego Lugano and Suárez himself, emerged as a watershed in the history of La Celeste who eventually lifted the Copa América in Argentina one year later, becoming the most successful team in the region.
The second decade of new millennium appeared to mark the reinassance of Uruguayan football on all fronts, as Peñarol Montevideo reached the Copa Libertadores final for the first time since 1988 and youth national sides got decent results on the international stage – the U23s, for instance, enabled Uruguay to compete again at the Olympic Games after a 84-year hiatus, as Martin Mazur pointed out on FourFourTwo.
It was in London that problems began to come out, though. Tabárez, appointed as Olympic Team manager, relied upon Cavani and Suárez as over-age players to ensure Uruguay their third gold medal after the triumphs at Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928. In addition, young as well as experienced players such as Lodeiro and Liverpool centre-back Sebastián Coates and current Southampton deep-lying forward Gastón Ramírez were drafted. After a 2-1 victory to United Arab Emirates at Old Trafford, Uruguay were blatantly knocked out at group stage, following losses against Senegal and Great Britain.
As BBC’s Tim Vickery wisely suggested a few months later, the Olympic defeat bared the failure by youngsters to capitalise their great chance on the international stage. This coupled with the ageing of some key senior team players like Forlán himself, regarded by Vickery as the player Uruguay remain dependent on “with his leadership, technical excellence and ability to read the game”.
The big issue is that not always 11 players constitute a team, and this is the case of Uruguay. Just consider Cavani and Suárez: despite remarkable scoring proficiency and an extraordinary potential, their cohexistence onto the pitch has never really converted into plenty of goals. Both are central forwards who need room and starve for service: fielding them in the same box means impoverishing, if not neutralising, their dangerousness for the opposite defenses. Not surprisingly, Suárez performed superbly in South Africa and Argentina, where he and Cavani played in different positions. The latter used to be fielded as a second striker, winger or deep-lying forward during his time in Palermo and recently converted himself in a clinical finisher who benefit from the assists by team-mates. That is to say – what Suárez usually does at Liverpool.
The second paradox of Uruguay is the high, clamorous risk of failing to participate in the World Cup with six qualifiers left despite their renaissance. La Celeste wasted a tempting chance as they got a scanty draw in Montevideo against Paraguay, already out of play, followed by a grim 2-0 loss to Chile.
Having the on-paper most terrific attacking duo in the world and jeopardising a supposed-to-be granted qualification – this should suggest, if necessary, that football is not precisely an exact science.