By Robin Bairner
World Cup specialists Uruguay head into their opening match of the 2014 tournament against Costa Rica at Castelao, Fortaleza with hopes of improving on the third-placed finish they achieved in South Africa four years ago and replicating the 1950 success at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana that stunned Brazil.
Oscar Tabarez’s side, however, head into the tournament under something of a cloud, with star striker Luis Suarez rated doubtful for much of the group stage. A knee injury means the 27-year-old, who top scored in the Conmebol qualifiers with 11 strikes and the Premier League last season with 31 goals, is extremely unlikely to play any part against the Central Americans and may even miss the second fixture against England next week.
Uruguay will likely be at full strength otherwise. Despite Suarez’s absence, they boast a side of formidable experience, with Diego Forlan, who missed training on Wednesday due to a slight illness, expected to lend the benefit of his 110 caps to a unit that has not changed greatly since their impressive campaign four years ago. Indeed, it is fitting that such an unaltered side should be led by Tabarez, who is the longest serving coach at the World Cup with eight years’ experience in his role.
For Costa Rica, who will be at full strength aside from full-back Heiner Mora - who has a broken heel - and experienced forward Alvaro Saborio, there are mixed omens. While they have won two of their three previous World Cup openers, they have lost their three previous matches against South American opposition and have a lamentable recent record at the finals, where they are on a four-game losing streak.
At this level their defence has been particularly fallible against quality opponents, with nine goals conceded last time they qualified in Germany 2006, while Uruguay - who they have never beaten - accounted for them at the play-off stages prior to South Africa. To make matters worse, their recent form has been no better, with four defeats in their last six games overall.
If they are to progress past the group stage for just a second time - having reached the last 16 at Italia 90 - this is an area they will inevitably have to tighten up. But with Uruguay, Italy and England all predominantly counterattacking sides, this could give them just a little cause for optimism.
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