ROSTOV-ON-DON (Reuters) - As Uruguay fans whipped up a fervent atmosphere on the eve of their team’s World Cup game against Saudi Arabia, supporters expressed their gratitude toward coach Oscar Tabarez whilst admitting their concern over the form of Luis Suarez.
Suarez, who on Wednesday will make his 100th appearance for the national team, missed a glut of chances in the 1-0 win over Egypt in their opening Group A game, when Jose Gimenez’s late header saved his blushes.
“Suarez hasn’t got going yet but we hope he starts to show who he really is from now,” said Fabian Vuissa, 30, from Montevideo as he queued to get into a fan zone in Rostov.
Fellow Uruguay supporter Juan Martin Di Pascua, 22, draped in a national team flag, said: “It makes us a bit worried as he’s the key for the team along with (Edinson) Cavani so I pray to God he starts playing well again soon.”
Despite only 3.4 million people to choose from, Uruguay have long punched above their weight in international soccer, lifting the first ever World Cup in 1930 and producing the infamous ‘Maracanazo’ by beating hosts Brazil to win it again in 1950.
Behind Di Pascua, a throng of fans belted out a chant recalling that inaugural World Cup triumph, singing: ‘We’re going to do it again, we’ll be champions again, just like the first time.’
He added: “Football is a huge part of our culture, it’s something we live, it’s football, football and football. While other nations treat it as a sport, for us it’s a passion.”
Uruguay failed to qualify for three out of four World Cups between 1994 and 2006 but the nation’s hopes have been reignited by coach Tabarez, a former school teacher affectionately known as El Maestro.
He led them to the 2010 World Cup semi-finals, their best result since 1970, and if his side beat Saudi Arabia in Rostov they will secure their passage to the last 16 for a third successive World Cup for the first time.
“Tabarez changed Uruguayan football, he returned the mystique to the national team, that folklore,” said Hugo Mena, who made a 48-hour journey from the city of Chuy near the border with Brazil to reach Russia.
“He changed the mentality in the team and gave the players a new sense of responsibility and commitment.”
Di Pascua added: “Before Tabarez arrived, the team was practically dead. We’re grateful for everything he’s done.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris