Uruguay find themselves in the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the second time in three World Cups. In 2010, they lost at the semi-final stage and finished in fourth place at the tournament.
The core of their team is the same as it was eight years ago. Fernando Muslera is between the sticks, Diego Godin marshals the back four, and Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are the goalscorers in the side.
While they have added talented youngsters to the side, there lingers a sense that this could be their best team for a generation. It is unlikely that the aforementioned players will make it to Qatar and still be in their prime.
The strikers may grab the headlines for this Uruguay team but it is their captain, Godin, who is the most important player in the side.
Leading from the back
Godin has made 121 appearances for his national team and is just four shy of Maxi Pereira’s record for Uruguay. The Atletico Madrid man made his international debut 13 years ago and has been one of the first names on the team sheet since.
The Rosario born centre half has always been a leader on the pitch, even before he gained the captaincy of Uruguay. At 20, he transferred to club side Nacional and was handed the armband. Just one year later, he made his move to Europe and was no longer a captain, but he remained a leader.
Against Egypt in their opening World Cup match in Russia, Uruguay were struggling to break through. Attack after attack came to nothing right from the beginning of the game. As the end of the first half approached, Godin collected possession several times and drove out of defence into midfield as if to show the creative players how to do it.
Eventually, the Uruguayans got their winner via his defensive partner Jose Gimenez, but Godin was a vital part of the performance.
Godin is not renowned for his goal return but he scores in important matches. He equalised in Atletico Madrid’s last league game of the 2013-14 season, against Barcelona, to seal the title for his club, and put them ahead in the Champions League final versus Real Madrid which, unfortunately, they lost in extra time.
Alongside Godin at the heart of the Uruguay defence is Gimenez. This partnership extends beyond the national team and into the Spanish capital as both players feature under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid.
This gives Godin the unique opportunity to pass on his knowledge and experience to his compatriot throughout the year. Judging by the last minute winner against Egypt, Godin has already shared his knack of scoring key goals with his junior.
Playing with each other constantly leaves no positional issues, which national teams can often come across when their two best central defenders are naturally left or right sided and have to accommodate one another. It also means that the two rarely have a breakdown in communication and have built up a level of trust.
At 23-years-old, Gimenez already has an impressive 45 appearances for his country and will surely succeed his mentor as captain of the national side one day. He still has a lot to learn but, next to one of the best centre-halves in the world, he will learn it well.
Members of this Uruguay squad know what it’s like to play in a World Cup semi-final. They are one match away from having the honour of playing in a second in eight years. Diego Godin was just 24-years-old when the World Cup took place in South Africa.
Now, he has winners’ medals from Copa America, Europa League and Copa del Rey. The experience of playing eight more years of knockout football at the highest level is something you can’t pick up at the drop of a hat.
With Gimenez to his right, and Diego Laxalt to his left, Godin boasts as much experience as the two players either side of him. He takes on the extra responsibility with barely a shrug, though, as he guides his less experienced compatriots through the game.
This may be Godin's last World Cup. Uruguay’s quarter-final against France will require all of his defensive knowhow if the South Americans are to progress.
Kylian Mbappe tore Argentina to shreds with his blistering pace and Godin is not known for being fleet footed. The experienced defender will not be too worried, though, Uruguay were the only team to not concede a single goal in the group stage and will probably sit deep defensively to negate the speed of the French forwards.
The team are no pushovers and won't go down without a fight. It would not be the biggest surprise in the world if Diego Godin were the one to be holding the trophy aloft on 15th July.
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