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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Uruguay's rich football history
By Tim Vickery

Ruben Olivera of Uruguay
Can the new manager get the most of Olivera?
Other countries have their history, goes the saying, and Uruguay has its football.

It is no mere rhetoric, as was made clear last week when up for auction were the boots and shirt worn in a game played over half a century ago.

The match was the decisive tie of the 1950 World Cup.

In the newly-built Maracanã stadium hosts Brazil needed just a draw to claim their first world title.

They failed - thwarted by Obdúlio Varela, the man who wore the shirt and boots sold last week.

He was Uruguay's inspirational captain.

Nowadays, when the national team play in Montevideo the crowd unfurl a giant banner with '1950' written
Tim Vickery

He held his men firm in the face of Brazil's furious assault, and then provided the midfield platform for his side's 2-1 win.

Fifty three years on Varela's shirt and boots have now been bought by the Uruguayan FA after the government declared them a national monument.

The official announcement declared that "the shirt in which he sweated to carry out this massive sporting achievement should remain in the country and be exhibited as an example of the best values of the Uruguayan people."

Much has been written about 1950, but usually from the Brazilian perspective.

It was indeed a crushing blow to Brazil's self-esteem.

The defeat punctured a mood of crazed nationalism and scarred the lives of the players and many of those who watched in the stadium or listened on the radio.

But it is possible to go too far.

Eight years later many of the wounds were healed when Pelé and Garrincha began establishing Brazil as the major force in world football.

Furthermore Brazil's population has grown almost fourfold in the subsequent half century and the country has gone through huge changes.

It would be entirely possible to stop 10 people in the streets of Rio and find that none of them are aware of what happened on that fateful afternoon in the Maracanã.

For Uruguay it is much harder to forget.

Nowadays, when the national team play in Montevideo the crowd unfurl a giant banner with '1950' written in the middle.

Uruguay's fans cling to the match in the Maracanã because they have had little more to celebrate.

In truth the result was not the shock that it might appear from today's vantage point.

At the time Uruguay had never lost a World Cup game, and had beaten Brazil in Brazil a few weeks before the tournament began.

Ever since the 1924 Olympics they had been the kings of world football, but their reign was coming to an end.

Uruguay have frequently taken refuge in blanket - sometimes brutal - defence

In 1954 they lost an epic semi-final to the great Hungarians, and ever since - predictably enough for a nation of just over 2m - they have been condemned to mediocrity.

With their previous superiority vanished and national pride at stake, over the last few decades Uruguay have frequently taken refuge in blanket - sometimes brutal - defence.

But now they have appointed a coach with a very different approach.

In his brief coaching career Juan Ramon Carrasco has acquired a reputation for placing his emphasis firmly on attack.

He stresses that his philosophy will not change now that he is charge of the national team.

Carrying out his bold promise will require all of the mental strength of an Obdúlio Varela.

Last week, at the very moment that Varela's kit was being auctioned, Carrasco assembled his players for their first training session under his command.

While Uruguayan football was celebrating the feats of the past, their new coach was taking his first steps in his fascinating quest to bring the good times back.

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