Uruguay 1-0 Northern Ireland
30 May 2014
Estadio Centenario, Montevideo
Scorer: Stuani

Uruguay retained the Unofficial Football World Championships title with a narrow 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo in what was a tightly contested match. It was Northern Ireland’s first chance to contest the UFWC since 1997, when they lost to Germany in Belfast. Uruguay have been holders of the UFWC since beating Argentina in October 2013. Uruguay are also the current Copa America Champions, and if you’re old enough to remember the British Championships you’ll know that Northern Ireland won the trophy in its final year in 1984, thus getting to keep it. These two teams, with a combined population of around five million have a history of “punching above their weight” and they produced a good World Cup warm-up match and another UFWC tie for the records.

Northern Ireland fielded a weakened side due to pull-outs from regular squad members Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Kyle Lafferty and Alex Bruce. For Uruguay, most noticeably star striker Luis Suarez was missing with an injury he hopes to shrug off in time for the World Cup. Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin was also missing. Uruguay fielded a strong team, though, starting the match with Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani in attack. With Uruguay ranked in the top six in the world, and Northern Ireland ranked 84th, many believed this would be a walkover for La Celeste (the Sky Blues), but the Green and White Army (Known as “the GAWA”) battled hard for the entire match in what was a decent game of football. While it was “only a friendly”, the match took place in the stadium where the World Cup first began back in 1930, so a big venue for the occasion brought passion from both teams.

The first half was a more slow-paced affair than the Uruguayans are used too. Northern Ireland played a solid game of possession football, stringing passes together and frustrating Uruguay at times, but ultimately, with Billy McKay mostly on his own up front, the Ulstermen didn’t create many chances. Uruguay predictably created most of the opportunities on home soil. After 12 minutes, Gaston Ramirez steered the ball just wide after a flick on from Cavani. Walter Gargano was heavily involved for Uruguay, firing over from 30 yards in the 19th minute, getting booked for a challenge on Sammy Clingan and almost breaking the deadlock early in the second half. There was also a battle between the two Southampton midfielders on the pitch. Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis and Gaston Ramirez had to leave club friendships behind for the 90 minutes as they fought a midfield battle of national pride, both players had a solid game.

Northern Ireland had experienced goalkeeper Roy Carroll to thank for his performance. Now plying his trade for Greek champions Olympiakos, Carroll made his international debut over 17 years ago, and made a string of first half saves to deny Uruguay. After a misplaced pass in the Northern Ireland midfield, Cavani found a chance and fired in a shot, which Carroll tipped away. Then with Forlan looking a cert to score the rebound, Carroll made a one-handed save at the near post, tipping it out for a corner and bumping himself against the upright in the process. Carroll came to the rescue on the stroke of half time, too, with a fortuitous save from a Forlan shot from outside the box. The rebound fell to Cavani this time who shot wide. Uruguay created more chances in the first half, Forlan still looking dangerous on his 108th cap. A corner and a few darting runs were the best Northern Ireland could muster attack wise, but they more than held their own in possession and midfield. At half-time, the Northern Irish were certainly good for their 0-0 having played a good defensive game and played the ball comfortably about in midfield.

The Uruguayan supporters expected more in the second half from their team and eventually they got the break through – it was hard work though and took a bit of skill and poaching to break the Northern Irish down. In the 61st minute, Rodriguez went on a jinxing run down the left, pulled it back for Cavani who in turn knocked the ball into the danger area, where substitute Christian Stuani was on hand to prod the ball home. It was a poacher’s goal from the substitute, who impressed throughout the second half. Uruguay continued to attack, testing the Northern Irish defence a few more times. Pereira fired over the top from 25 yards, a deft chip from Rodriguez sailed wide for a goal kick and on 78 minutes, Hernandez headed wide with a free header – a chance he will feel should have made it 2-0.

Northern Ireland battled right up until the 90th minute and the introduction of substitutes Josh Magennis, Jonny Steele and Ryan McLaughlin gave them glimmers of hope and some fresh youthful legs. Forcing late corners and free kicks, the Ulstermen tried to find a way through with no end product. Manager Michael O’Neill made the most of the opportunity, and on the night debuts were handed out to Luke McCullough (who started the match) and substitutes Paul Paton and Ryan McLaughlin. Uruguay made use of their substitutes too, taking Forlan off at half time, knowing he can still do a job in Brazil, and introducing six players during the course of the match. Despite the battling performance by the lads in green shirts, it was the Sky Blues that had looked comfortable for the 1-0 win overall. Uruguay are now just six UFWC match wins behind France who occupy the final top ten spot on the UFWC’s all-time leader board.

In many ways the game will be seen as an important and useful exercise for both sides. For Uruguay it was the first of two warm up matches for the World Cup and one they want to ensure their players come through unscathed and match fit. La Celeste also play Slovenia at home this Thursday, 5 June, in a match which now of course is the next UFWC title match. That game, this Thursday 5 June, is also being played at the Estadio Centenario. We’ll have a full match preview coming soon.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland head to play Chile on the second game of their South American tour with heads held high after a battling performance against one of the fancied World Cup sides. Michael O’Neill will definitely take positives from this match into the next set of Euro 2016 qualifiers, while Uruguay have the task of trying to oust either Italy or England from a tough group which also includes underdogs Costa Rica. If Uruguay can create chances like they did against Northern Ireland, it will take a massive Costa Rica effort to break them down in two weeks time.

Unless Slovenia cause an upset this week, the UFWC will be present at the World Cup in Brazil in Group D with Costa Rica the first challengers to Uruguay’s title. England and Italy may well be involved in UFWC title matches, too, as the excitement of Brazil 2014 awaits. In the meantime, we’ll be looking ahead to the Uruguay vs Slovenia game, and you can keep up to date by following us on on Twitter or Facebook.

Uruguay: Fernando Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Martin Caceres (Alvaro Pereira 72), Arevalo Rios, Diego Lugano, Sebastian Coates (Jose Maria Gimenez 45), Gaston Ramirez (Nicolas Lodeiro 65), Walter Gargano (Diego Perez 75), Edinson Cavani (Abel Hernandez 65), Diego Forlan (Christian Stuani 45), Cristian Rodriguez
Unused Subs: Jorge Fucile, Sebastian Eguren, Rodrigo Munoz, Martin Silva, Alvaro Gonzalez, Alejandro Silva
Booked – Gargano

Northern Ireland: Roy Carroll, Chris Baird, Luke McCullough, Aaron Hughes, Corry Evans (Conor McLaughlin 87), Sammy Clingan (Paul Paton 74), Steve Davis (captain), Shane Ferguson (Daniel Lafferty 80), Niall McGinn (Josh Magennis 61), Oliver Norwood (Jonny Steele 86), Billy McKay (Ryan McLaughlin 81).
Unused Subs – Liam Donnelly, Michael McGovern, James Gray, Liam Boyce, Trevor Carson
Booked – Norwood

Match highights are available for viewers in the UK at the BBC Sport website
(Note, this match was played on the evening of 30 May in Uruguay, which was the early morning of 31 May in the UK.)

World_Cup_2014_Brazil_Argetina_250x250Uruguay take another step towards taking the UFWC title into the World Cup, but can they win the tournament for the third time in the country’s history? Coral are currently offering very tempting odds of 28/1 for Uruguay to win the 2014 World Cup. And they’re also running a money back offer on World Cup outright bets if Brazil or Argentina win the tournament. So even if Uruguay don’t win you can get your money back. T&Cs apply, see the Coral website.