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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK

What might have been...

By Tim Vickery
BBC Sport Online

For Uruguay it was the campaign of if onlys. The biggest, of course, centres on gangling striker Richard Morales.

If only he had kept his nerve and headed home from three yards in the final minutes, then Uruguay and not Senegal would be going through to the second round.

" Theirs is a young team, who will have picked up invaluable experience "

And if only the referee had not given an outrageous penalty and an offside goal, then Uruguay would not have been 3-0 down in the first place.

There are many others.

If only they had shown the same spirit and stamina in the second halves against Denmark and France.

If only Fabian O'Neill, around whom they had built their attacking strategy, had been fit to play a part.

If only coach Victor Pua had not made a mess of team selection in the first game against Denmark.

If only he had not placed so much faith in the disappointing Sebastian Abreu.

But, along with the laments, there are some reasons to be cheerful for Uruguayan football.

They made it through to the second round in both 1986 and 1990. But the first campaign was marred by violence, and the second was a palid affair.

This time there were no wild men antics and, if they went down, then at least they did so with all guns blazing.

Theirs is a young team, who will have picked up invaluable experience. The likes of Carini, Sorondo, Garcia, Recoba, Varela, Regueiro and Forlan could all have a role to play in Germany 2006.

The chances of Uruguay ever winning the World Cup again are not good. Even so, though, talk of their decline can be exaggerated.

It is closer to the truth to say they are victims of their own success.

Uruguay practically invented modern football, capturing the imagination of the world with their new short passing and balletic style in the 1924 Olympics.

They defended their title in Amsterdam four years later, and then took it upon themselves to host, organise and win a new competition called the World Cup.

If football is the global phenomenon it is today, nobody has done more than Uruguay to bring that about.

" Uruguay do remarkably well considering the resources at their disposal "

The downside for the South Americans is that standards have risen so much that it is very difficult to be competitive if you have a population of a little over three million.

Uruguay do remarkably well considering the resources at their disposal.

The quantity of players that they produce is extraordinary, and remember we are not talking about a country such as the Netherlands, with a first-world infrastructure that helps people fulfil their potential.

Now Uruguayan football has to look forward. The bulk of the current side came through the World Youth Cups of 1997 and 1999.

Next year, Uruguay host the South American Under-20 Championships.

Spearheaded by the hugely promising playmaker Ruben Olivera, they will be hoping to uncover some more gems to wear the sky blue shirt with pride in four years' time.

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