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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Recoba the main man for Uruguay
Mario Regueiro (right) joins Alvaro Recoba in joyous celebration after World Cup qualification
Mario Regueiro (right) joins Recoba in joyous celebration
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Where Brazil have Rivaldo, Uruguay have Alvaro Recoba - a left-footed playmaker overflowing with talent who is often accused of not pulling his weight with the national team.

But there is one big difference. Rivaldo represents a nation with a population of 170 million and rising.

So the national team coach is always full of options. Djalminha, Juninho, Alex, Kaka and Ronaldinho Gaucho are all candidates for Rivaldo's number 10 shirt.

Uruguay, on the other hand, has fewer than three-and-a-half million inhabitants.

Open Quote
It's going to be something beautiful. The most important thing in football is playing in a World Cup
Close Quote
Alvaro Recoba

Bearing in mind its tiny population, it is incredible that the country produces so many top class players.

But it is inevitable that Uruguay cannot compete with the likes of Brazil in terms of strength in depth.

They have to get the best out of the resources they have - which is why Alvaro Recoba is so important to them.

Genius

Nicknamed 'El Chino,' Recoba will lead the charge to Asia with the burden of responsibility on his shoulders.

Uruguay would seem to have few problems at the back.

Although they finished fifth in South America's qualifying table, they had the best defensive record in the competition.

But to make progess in the World Cup they will have to win games and score goals, and here they look to the creative genius of their star player.

Recoba, however, managed just one goal in the marathon qualifying tournament.

The press were quick to tell him that it was not enough, and he was quick to respond.

"In a country such as ours," he says, "where things are not going well in general, it's tough that people place such importance on the national team.

Javier Chevanton holds aloft Alavro Recoba following the play-off win over Australia
Recoba was instrumental in the win over Australia

"There are even people saying that if the country isn't doing well it's because Recoba didn't score a goal."

There is, of course, far more to Recoba's game than goalscoring.

His tight dribbling skills and magnificent, booming left foot played a full part in getting Uruguay to their first World Cup since 1990.

There were moments of true magic when it most mattered such as a mazy run which pierced the Brazil defence and only ended when he was brought down in the area.

There was also the wickedly-struck free kick which gave Richard Morales the opportunity to head home the vital goal in the play-off against Australia.

Potential

With the game over and won, Recoba celebrated Uruguay's qualification by sitting on the crossbar and singing along with the fans.

"We've done the hard part," he said when he was finally coaxed down.

"Now we have to keep the good work going all the way to the World Cup. It's going to be something beautiful.

"The most important thing in football is playing in a World Cup."

And for Uruguay, one of the most important things about the World Cup is that Alvaro Recoba plays to his potential.

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