Universally famous for its talented footballers, the South American republic of Uruguay competed in the men’s Olympian soccer championship in the Briton capital of London in July and August 2012, after a 84-year absence in the Olympiad. Along with Brazil and the host country, it was one of the “heavy-favorites” to win the crown in the multi-sport event, an Olympic title won by Pedro Cea and his fellow Uruguayans in the 1920s (a couple of years prior to winning the Inaugural World Cup). Curiously enough Uruguay would have won more medals, but in the middle of the 1970s it refused to attend the Montreal Games and then an international boycott deprived the country of the opportunity of making an Olympian appearance in the former Soviet republic of Russia.
By mid-1924, the national side left Montevideo (country’s capital city) for Paris to attend the Games of the VIII Olympiad. There, with passion and discipline, Uruguay’s team made headline news across the world when it was the champion in the men’s football tournament, ahead of Switzerland ( silver) and Sweden (bronze). In the meantime, it also became the first non-European team to receive the global title. Uruguay’s roster included footballers such as Andres Mazali, Pedro Arispe, Jose Vidal, Santos Urdinaran, Pedro Petrone, Angel Romano, Umberto Tomasina, Alfredo Zibechi, Jose Nasazzi, Jose Leandro Andrade, Alfredo Ghierra, Hector Scarone, Pedro Cea, Jose Naya,Pedro Casella, Luis Chiappara, Pedro Etchegoyen, Zoilo Saldombide, Pascual Somma, Fermin Uriarte, Pedro Zingone, and Antonio Urdinaran.
In the wake of its triumph in Western Europe, they were received as national heroes in their homeland country, at that time one of the most prosperous nations in the Spanish-speaking world.Over the years that followed, the peaceful republic of Uruguay was able to defend successfully its global trophy, gaining the admiration and respect of the world.
In the pre-Olympic year 1927, the Football Continental Cup had been won by the Argentine side after their win over Uruguay. Nonetheless, shortly after, these results changed in the Summer Olympics in the Netherlands. In a South American duel, the Uruguayan squad came first in the Olympiad upon their historic victory over Argentina 2-1 in the gold-medal match. Prior to the finals, the host nation and Germany were eliminated by the Uruguayan side. In Amsterdam (Holland), the Olympian winners were Andres Mazali, Pedro Arispe, Lorenzo Fernandez, Antonio Campolo, Pedro Petrone, Santos Urdinaran, Hector Scarone, Juan Arremon, Roberto Figueroa, Jose Nasazzi, Jose Leandro Andrade, Alvaro Gestido, Pedro Cea, Hector Castro, Adhemar Canavesi, Juan Piriz, and, Juan Peregrino Anselmo, Venancio Bartibas, Fausto Batignani, Domingo Tejera, Angel Melogno, and Rene Borjas.
During the 1930s and 1950s, the country’s squad earned the FIFA Cup twice; the last time with a stunning win against the host nation in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike Brazil and other footballing nations, Uruguay declined to send soccer players to the World Championships (Western Europe) between 1934 and 1938..
As well as being world champion and nine-time winner of the South American contest, they also earned five Intercontinental events, eight Libertadores cups, seven Junior Continental championships (1954-1981), and one gold medal in the 1983 Pan American Sports Games (by defeating Brazil in the semis). It was really interesting. Yet despite these global achievements, the country’s sportsmen could not compete for the Summer Olympic Games.
The Return of Uruguay
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, tiny Uruguay had been plagued by political violence, financial crisis (budget deficits), mismanagement, and other social problems. But Uruguay’s nightmares did not stop. Additionally, this former Spaniard colony, once called “the Switzerland of the Americas”, began a war against rebel groups. But these problems came to a head when the nation’s anti-Marxist Head of State Juan Maria Bordaberry was overthrown in a coup in the latter half of the 70s. Soon afterwards, a heavy-handed military rule was installed for a 11-year period. As a consequence of this atmosphere, sport was gradually losing its status. Over the next few years, thousands of soccer players had been forced to play outside Uruguay, mainly in Argentina and Western Europe. Meanwhile, the country’s teams also had hurdles to make trips abroad.
Uruguay’s football – often referred to as one of the world’s finest squads– apparently appeared to emerge from its crisis in 1976. In February of that year, after some early successes in the Continental Tournament on Brazil’s northern coast, the national side gained a berth at the Montreal Games following a 48-year period of decline. During these decades, astonishingly there were not Uruguayan squads in the Summer Games, being defeated by Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay in the Continental Olympic Qualification tournaments.
Nevertheless, the 1976 team inexplicably declined to go to Quebec, Canada, losing an important chance to capture one of the three Olympian medals in the amateur event. Later that year, the men’s football team failed to qualify for the FIFA World Tournament for the first time. Over the following period, soccer continued to face many obstacles: Prior to participating in the 1980 U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics because of its complex relationship with the Soviet Bloc, the country’s sports officials refused to compete in the Pre-Olympic Cup in Colombia, which gave Olympian tickets to South America. During this same period, Uruguay’s participation in the VIII Pan American Sports Games was suspended despite being the winner of the 1979 Junior Continental event.
The authoritarian government was brought to a close in 1985 when Julio Maria Sanguinetti won the multi-party polls. During the decades that followed, Uruguay’s democratic society began a new period with good news in many aspects.
Traditionally, South America is the “big favorite” in the Olympic championships. By 1988, Brazil assembled a squad of top footballers such as Romario, Bebeto, and Tafarell, who were runners-up in the Olympiad in Korea, a medal that Brazil had won in 1984 in Southern California. In the second half of the 1990s, Argentina was second and Brazil, with its global star Ronaldo, third, respectively. In the following century, Ivan Zamorano — one of South America’s finest footballers– and his fellow sportsmen helped Chile to win its only medal in the Games in Oceania. Then, Argentina won two consecutive titles; by 2008 the Argentine side led Latin America to its fourth Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Aside from this, Paraguay’s football players earned the silver medal in the 2004 Modern Olympics in Greece’s capital city of Athens. At London 2012, South America is represented by Uruguay and Brazil.
The national squad won the right to attend the London 2012 Games after finishing second in the South American Youth Championship in early 2011 on Peruvian soil. During the regional tournament, Uruguay’s contingent made history when it defeated Argentina -twice Olympic gold medalist, 2004 & 2008 — 1-0.