Ruud Doevendans

Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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How good were the Uruguayans of the 20's and 30's?

    Why do so many consider the Brazilians of 1970 as the greatest team ever? It may be because they were a very entertaining side, playing the attack under all circumstances and they fielded five or six magnificent players, capable of tricking each opponent and always having in mind the goal of scoring more goals than the other team, rather than letting in less. Better 5-3 than 2-0, that was Brazil that days. Gerson was a very skillful midfielder, as was Rivelino, and Tostao was a great player too. I've always been an admirer of the cyclone that Jairzinho was, and Pelé was a truly wonderful player, although I have been one of the very few to suggest that there have been a number of players that can be considered better than the so-called King of Football.

    But then, there is also another side of the story. Brazil 1970 had an erratic goalkeeper in Felix, and their defenders were mostly poor. Carlos Alberto certainly wasn't, although his real strenghts were in attack, but I have always looked at Piazza, Everaldo, Brito and Marco Antonio as moderate defenders. Every other team with at least one or two decent strikers could brings these guys into serious trouble. Look at it this way: the best team ever should at least have good players on each position, good in relation to international level. It should not have real weaknesses, like these Brazilians surely had. Seven good or very good players may not be enough to be named as the best ever. But then, who else? Which team had good players in defense, midfield ánd attack? And a good shotstopper? Great technical abilities and tactical sense? Not many, I guess. I think there's one team that is constantly overlooked, mainly because no-one of us has ever seen moving pictures of these men. We have to imagine what they could do, just by the stories we read about them. But the Uruguayan team of the 20's and 30's, the world champion of 1930, to me is a strong contender for the title of best team ever.

    They won the Olympic title in 1924 and 1928, and they did so in a majestical style. They won all their matches but one, the final in 1928 against Argentina who managed a draw against the Celestes, only to be defeated 2-1 in the replay. In total nine wins out of ten for Uruguay, 32 goals scored and conceded only seven. Overcoming rivalry from Argentina, Germany, Holland and Italy (with Combi, Rosetta, Caligaris, Baloncieri and Schiavio in the team!). At that time it was beyond any doubt that Uruguay had the best team in the world, even better than England and Scotland who had dominated world football till then. And Uruguay was admired so much, because they had changed the game, with their brilliant technique and fine positional play. The World Cup of 1930 proved what all insiders already knew: Uruguay was the best.

    Captain José Nasazzi, nicknamed The Marshall, was the backbone of the team. He was a leader, being captain in every one of his 41 international matches, equally strong in defense and attack. A tough guy, especially from a mental point of view. He was one of the very first players to use the off-side-trap. Nasazzi was the Passarella of his days. He got assistance from Ernesto Mascheroni, who later also played two caps for Italy. Mascheroni was a tall and very calm defender, who turned out to be a great success during the World Cup. Goalkeeper Enrique Ballestrero surprisingly won a place in the team, after no. 1 goalie Andres Mazali, a legendary figure who was in goal during both Olympic victories, went out to party just before the start of the tournament. He was thrown out of the squad by teammanager Alberto Supicci. Ballestrero did very well, had a somewhat risky style but he knew exactly what to do. He caught the ball rather than punching it away, was dominant in the box and hardly ever made a mistake. After the final he was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament.

    The great orchestrator of this magnificent team was José Leandro Andrade. Although he had his best days behind him, the big star of 1924 and 1928 still was the best midfielder in the world. He was a wizard on the ball, and although tactics were of no interest to him, he always knew where to be on the field. Andrade was by many considered as the world's best player in the first half of the twentieth century. Lorenzo Fernandez, a very versatile player, was the central midfielder in this team. The former striker was technically very good, and he was a braveheart. He never gave up. Alongside him on the left was Alvaro Gestido, one of the lesser known. He was a gifted player and a strong runner, capable of helping out in defense and attack.

    And that a bunch of players they had in attack! Uruguay could have fielded two world-class lines. Especially the inside-trio was great. Old Hector Scarone was brilliant of the ball and scored a lot of goals, today he's still the leading all-time topscorer of the Uruguayan team. Pedro Cea was a skillful playmaker who provided his fellow-men with good and intelligent passes, and one-handed Hector Castro kept superstar Pedro Petrone out of the team. On both flanks they had plenty of choice. In the end, Pablo Dorado won the battle for a place on the right, going on to open the score in the World Cup final against Argentina. On the left, to surprise of many, Santos Iriarte established himself as the go-to-guy. He made his debut in the first game against Peru, and played only once for Uruguay after the World Cup. But he was strong during the four games that led to the title, and he scored the important third goal against the Argentines. These five edged Anselmo, Urdinaran and Borjas out of the team, last two had starred during the Olympics 1928, as had others like Arremon and Campolo.

    I won't say that this team was the best ever. But they are strong candidates for sure. Of course, I've never seen them play myself, since these men played 70-80 years ago. I only saw the photos, and read the stories. And I read what contemporaries said about them, how they rated them. A team that wins three tournaments in a row against sometimes great opposition, with so many famous players in the team, is a strong contender to be at least named among the very best of all time. Remains only the question: who on earth has moving pictures of their games on film or video? Whoever has it, do not hesitate and bring them to me. Or no, I'll come to you and take them with me. Wherever you reside!



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