Usually the best clubs come from large cities. In England, the biggest clubs come from Manchester, London and Liverpool. The biggest in Spain come from Barcelona and Madrid. In Italy, the largest clubs are in Rome, Milan and Turin. This is the case in almost every football league in the world.

Most of the aforementioned cities have populations larger than one of the most successful countries in the global game – Uruguay. So what makes Uruguay so good at football?

To quote Dylan Thomas, let’s “begin at the beginning”. Uruguay aren’t newcomers to the top of football’s international scene like Belgium for instance. The first Fifa World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, with the hosts winning the tournament.

World Cup win

Jose Leandro Andrade is considered one of the world’s greatest pre-war footballers and was the driving force behind Uruguay’s success. However, the inaugural World Cup wasn’t the first time La Celeste had tasted international glory.

They won the Olympic gold medal for football in 1924 and 1928 at Paris and Amsterdam respectively. Following their 1930 success, Uruguay didn’t enter the World Cup for another 20 years, although there were no tournaments in 1942 or 1946.

Uruguayan forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino (C) scores past Brazilian goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa at the 1950 World Cup ( STAFF/AFP via Getty Images)

When the World Cup returned in 1950, it was the only tournament to use a round-robin system. Uruguay played Brazil in the last match, which was the World Cup final in all but name. Uruguay beat hosts Brazil 2-1 at the Maracana in front of 199,000 fans to lift the trophy.  

Despite not having won the World Cup for 70 years, Uruguay continues to overachieve in football. The country has won 15 Copa America titles, more than any other nation.

Their most recent victory in the showpiece of South American football came in 2011, but they have continued to punch above their weight.

Uruguay stars

The stars of the Uruguayan game today are ageing. Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez are all on the wrong side of 30. However, the crop of Uruguayan players coming through are arguably even more exciting than the generation that won the 2011 Copa America and reached the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup.

In five years’ time, Uruguay could have the best midfield in world football. Lucas Torreira, Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde are playing for some of Europe’s elite clubs. Despite the fact they are similar ball-winning midfielders, Valverde and Bentancur could play slightly in front of Arsenal’s Torreira.

Add the goals of Maxi Gomez and defensive solidity of Atletico’s José Giménez, who at 25 has 58 caps already, and the future looks incredibly bright for La Celeste. 

More sheep than people

Uruguay is a nation of only three and a half million people, about the same size as my home nation, Wales. Like Wales, Uruguay has more sheep than people.

Unlike Wales, however, Uruguay have dined at the top table of international football for many years. If talent such as Bentancur and Valverde continue to pop off the production line, Uruguay will remain at the top for many years to come.

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