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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
O'Neill gives Uruguay options
Fabian O'Neill was starved of opportunities at Juventus
O'Neill was starved of opportunities at Juventus

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He might not attract the headlines of Ronaldo, but Fabian O'Neill could push the Brazil striker hard in the award for international comeback of the year.

When World Cup qualification began, O'Neill was one of the stalwarts of the Uruguayan side. But he soon found himself suffering from a lack of opportunity at club level.

With his somewhat bulky physique, O'Neill is the type of player who needs to be in regular action if the edge is not to go from his game.

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In the new-model Uruguay, perhaps there is a place for Fabian O'Neill
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So his form for Uruguay dipped as he found himself starved of first-team chances at Italian giants Juventus.

Victor Pua took over as Uruguay coach halfway through the qualification campaign. His first game in charge was at home to Paraguay.

O'Neill came on in the second half, played badly and was consigned to the international wilderness. Uruguay qualified without him.

As the players danced on the pitch and the fans celebrated on Montevideo's main avenue, few gave much thought to the chances of Fabian O'Neill making the World Cup squad.

But, as 2001 turned to 2002, there were two seperate developments.

First, O'Neill moved on to Perugia. Suddenly he was back in first-team action, playing his way back to form and fitness.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic Victor Pua was giving serious thought to Uruguay's World Cup campaign.

One problem kept presenting itself; his team was solid in defence, but in order to stay alive in the competition they would have to score goals and win games.

He began to think about changing the balance of the side - and in the new-model Uruguay there perhaps might be a place for Fabian O'Neill.

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With O'Neill on the pitch, Uruguay's most dangerous players were receiving the ball earlier
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After a goalscoring comeback against Saudi Arabia in March, it was against Italy in Milan that O'Neill left no one in doubt of his usefulness.

Employed in a central midfield role, O'Neill's wonderful passing skills transformed the Uruguay attack into a much more potent weapon.

He was a superb supply line to rapid right winger Varela, and the hugely talented Recoba.

With O'Neill on the pitch, Uruguay's most dangerous players were receiving the ball earlier in the move, with more chance of surprising the opposing defence.

And, if the early long pass was not an option, O'Neill's strength on the ball made him the conductor of a slower, more measured build up.

He was the hub of some splendid spells of controlled possession.

Their performance against Italy is sure to fill Uruguay with confidence for the task ahead.

They now have a variety of tactical approaches in their locker, and they know that one of them, with Fabian O'Neill in a key role, gives them the chance of scoring goals against the tightest defences.

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GROUP A
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DENMARK 3 +3 7
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URUGUAY 3 -1 2
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