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banner Monday, 26 November, 2001, 03:24 GMT
Football's debt to Uruguay
Uruguay won 3-0 at home to beat Australia 3-1 on aggregate
Uruguay gave their fans plenty to shout about
By BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery in Montevideo

I'm writing this in an internet cafe on Montevideo's main street.

Outside, drums are beating and hearts are beating faster still as Uruguay celebrates World Cup qualification with a huge dose of relief.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Australia.

They need to make it to a World Cup to launch football as a mass sport, and for the third time running, they have lost in a play-off.

Football owes a huge debt to the Uruguayans, a debt which many round the world have now forgotten
Tim Vickery

Even so, it is harder still not to celebrate with Uruguay.

If Australia had been successful then Uruguay for the first time ever would have missed out on three consecutive World Cups.

It would have killed off what remains of the nation's footballing self-esteem.

Other countries have their history, it is said, while Uruguay has its football.

It is much more than mere rhetoric.

Beyond anything that happened over the 180 minutes against Australia, I feel that Uruguay's qualification was deserved for two reasons.

Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930
Fans will be up all night in Montevideo

Firstly because football owes a huge debt to the Uruguayans, a debt which many round the world have now forgotten.

Their gold medal in the 1924 Olympics changed the way football was played.

No one had heard of them when they arrived in Paris.

But their style of play - full of short passes and movement, invention and wizardry - was immediately seen as being much more attractive than the more muscular style of the day.

Pua's humility

On the back of winning gold in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, they were given the right to organise the first World Cup, and worked hard to ensure its success.

So football's global success today - both in the way it is played and watched - was given enormous impetus by the Uruguayans.

The second reason for finding their qualification deserved is the humility of coach Victor Pua.

Pua scoured the country looking for talented youngsters
Tim Vickery

He was bright enough to realise that qualification is not a birthright, that a country of little more than 3 million people will inevitably struggle against far bigger countries.

Pua perceived that Uruguay could only be successful as a result of a process, and then worked hard to put that process into action.

He scoured the country looking for talented youngsters, and organised them in the team that went to the World Youth Cup in Malaysia in 1997.

Through that route came defender Alejandro Lembo, superb midfield general Pablo Garcia, flying forward Mario Regueiro and attacking midfielder Nico Olivera.

Youth talent

Two years later the World Youth Cup side included magnificent keeper Fabian Carini, impressive centre back Gonzalo Sorondo and dynamic striker Javier Chevanton.

Many were also taken to the 1999 Copa America, as, from boys to men, Pua groomed them for the World Cup challenge.

Now they have proved themselves up to the task, and Uruguay will celebrate their success long into the Montevideo night.

BBC Sport's Tim Vickery
post-match reaction
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