Uruguay's clout in football far exceeds its population of 3.5 mn
Montevideo : In the 118 years of the Uruguayan football association, AUF, founded on March 30, 1900, the Uruguayan national side has won two World Cups, two Olympic titles and 15 Copa America trophies, an incredible record for a country with a population of a mere 3.5 million.
One secret of its success is football for youngsters, a "social movement that reaches every corner of the republic", practiced by around 60,000 boys and some 30,000 girls between ages 6 and 13, who play on the 664 teams that compete in eight different categories, reports Efe.
National Sports Undersecretary Alfredo Etchandy said in an interview with Efe that this practice requires a different kind of "school" a football field on which a child learns respect for others, to fight for a purpose, to treat both adversaries and colleagues well, and to win and lose.
Another reason for the Uruguayan team's success, according to Etchandy, who worked as a sportswriter for 48 years, is that Uruguay, "being a small country surrounded by two giants like Brazil and Argentina," found in this sport "a way to fight them as equals".
"Uruguay knows it can beat anyone. It can lose, because it can lose to anyone, but it can also beat anyone and that is the specific mark of Uruguayans," he said, adding that their football "is an expression of the country's culture" and has "a specific style that it has maintained over the years" and cannot be changed.
"The strategy, the tactics and the techniques of individual players can be changed, but not the style," said the undersecretary, adding that footballers from the east have a "plus," which is to "give more when it seems impossible".
In 1924, Uruguay travelled to Europe -- the first South American national squad to do so -- to compete in the Paris Olympic Games, and before that played nine friendlies with an equal number of victories.
Those triumphs, added to the games won in the Olympics, totalled 14 consecutive victories, which allowed Uruguayans to see "the power they had" and to wave their flag high in pride for their country.
"Victories unite people, they make the team jersey and the soccer ball itself into symbols," Etchandy, who as a journalist often travelled abroad with the Ecuadorian national team, said, adding that it gave him "a new vibration".