Uruguay a tantalizing long-shot bet to win 2022 FIFA World Cup


Uruguay a tantalizing long-shot bet to win 2022 FIFA World Cup

Don’t look now, but the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which takes place in Qatar, is less than a month away. And judging by the odds, it’s anybody’s guess who will lift the Jules Rimet Trophy on Dec. 18.

Oddsmakers have installed Brazil as the +400 favorite, but the five-time winners have plenty of company at the top of the board with eight other teams sitting between +600 and 12/1.

And while a strong argument can be made for any of those teams to win the tournament, there is a sleeper hanging out at 50/1 that deserves your attention.

Perhaps no country in international soccer punches above its weight better than Uruguay, a tiny country of 3.5 million people sandwiched between Brazil (214 million) and Argentina (45.3 million). Despite being only the 10th-biggest country in South America, Uruguay has won 15 Copa America titles (tied for most with Argentina) and two World Cups (1930, 1950), making it one of six nations to have hoisted to Jules Rimet Trophy more than once.

Uruguay's Darwin NunezUruguay’s Darwin Nunez Reuters

It’s been a while since Uruguay has tasted glory — it’s last Copa America title came in 2011 — and La Celeste’s history in World Cups over 70 years ago is irrelevant to how they’ll perform in 2022, but it does show that Uruguay has the pedigree and system in place to have success in these formats. They’re doing something right, as evidenced by a trip to the semifinals in 2010 and impressive group-stage records in 2014 and 2018 (Uruguay won five of six matches in that span, beating England, Italy and Portugal).

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In 15 years under Oscar Tabarez, you knew what to expect from Uruguay. They would play a well-structured defensive style that was tough to break down and always made them a live underdog.

Tabarez’s preferred tactic, which would see Uruguay pack the middle of the pitch, dig in defensively and hope Diego Forlan, Edison Cavani or Luis Suarez would provide a moment of magic, gave more skilled teams fits.

And that style of play fit Uruguay. La Celeste didn’t have the talent to go back and forth with elite teams, so they did everything in their power to turn contests into coin flips.

But Tabarez is now gone and it seems like the strength of the Uruguay roster has shifted from the back of the pitch to the attacking third. Suarez and Cavani are still around and will play their parts in Qatar, but Uruguay will look to Fede Valverde (Real Madrid), Darwin Nunez (Liverpool) and Rodrigo Bentancur (Tottenham) to carry them to new heights, while still maintaining that commitment to being tough to play against.

On the field, Uruguay ticks a couple of boxes you look for in a sleeper bet. They’ve got experience playing together and there’s plenty of talent on this roster, but what’s most appealing about a bet on La Celeste is their draw.

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Uruguay was drawn into Group H, which will pit them against a vulnerable favorite in Portugal and two teams that Uruguay should be able to beat out, South Korea and Ghana.

And even though Portugal is the favorite to win the group — which is critical because the second-place team will likely face Brazil in the Round of 16 — that’s not a sure thing. The Portuguese are a high-ceiling, low-floor side and there’s definitely a world where Uruguay is able to finish atop Group H and set up a very winnable showdown with either Serbia, Switzerland or Cameroon.

Long shots don’t win the World Cup, but there have been plenty of sleepers to make deep runs. Turkey (2002), South Korea (2002) and Uruguay (2010) all made it to the semifinals, while Croatia was the runner-up in 2018.

At some point we’ll see a dark horse win the World Cup and the wide-open nature of this field sets up well for a bet on a gate-crasher.

And of the realistic long shots, Uruguay ticks every box.

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