With 'Garra Charrua', Uruguay always play with bite

Italy's Giorgio Chiellini shows his shoulder June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

PORTO ALEGRE Brazil (Reuters) - Uruguay’s World Cup victory over Italy showed again the country’s unique spirit of “La Garra Charrua” - a gritty, fighting character which is never stronger than in do-or-die situations.

The word comes from the Charrua Indians, reputedly ferocious warriors who were wiped out in the 19th century.

At its best, “garra” has helped Uruguay to glory, never more so than in the 1950 World Cup, when they beat Brazil at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro to take the trophy in a never-to-be forgotten upset.

At its worst, it can bring out an ugly, brutal side. The apparent biting by Luis Suarez of an Italian defender in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory, if proven to be the case, will be an infamous example. [ID:nL6N0P55PZ]

That victory put Uruguay into the last 16, progress which had looked unlikely after they lost their first Group D game to previously unheralded Costa Rica.

They then beat England, but still needed to vanquish Italy to make the next round. That came with an 81st minute goal by captain Diego Godin.

“Garra, which always meant tenacity and courage in the face of adversity, is now the achievement of the impossible,” Andreas Campomar, a Uruguayan and author of “Golazo! A History of Latin American Football”, told Reuters.

“Psychologically Uruguay feels most comfortable with its back to the wall. It suits being the perennial underdog. Favoritism, see Costa Rica, usually ends in failure.”

The spirit is fortified by the fact that Uruguay, with just 3.5 million people, has traditionally been overshadowed politically, economically and socially by its much larger neighbors Brazil and Argentina.

Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Keith Weir