Old hand Tabarez puts Uruguay back on World Cup map

Twelve years ago, a desperate Uruguay tasked Oscar Tabarez to return to coaching the national team and put it back among football's elite.

After failing to survive the group phase in 2002 once-proud Uruguay hit rock bottom when they failed even to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

Tabarez, 71, now heads to his third World Cup as coach, boosted by goal-getters Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, but also nurturing a new generation of players.

Since his return to the helm after a previous stint as boss from 1998-90, the man nicknamed "El Maestro" -- a reference to his years as a school teacher -- has once again made twice-winners Uruguay a name to be feared at the World Cup.

He guided them to a semi-final place in South Africa in 2010, followed by a Copa America triumph -- in neighbouring Argentina no less -- a year later.

The World Cup draw was relatively kind to Tabarez and his team, who will meet Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia in Group A.

He is optimistic about the players that have come through the ranks during qualifying in the CONMEBOL group behind Brazil.

"There are players who have emerged, who weren't there at the beginning of the qualification campaign, who've helped us to strengthen things, that give us hope," he said as he oversaw training in Montevideo.

He points out young Juventus midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur and Sampdoria's Lucas Torreira, both assured ball players.

Tabarez will remain faithful to his side's defensive DNA -- the gritty backs-to-the-wall mentality epitomised in the Uruguayan phrase "la Garra Charrua," named for reputedly ferocious Charrua indigenous people who were wiped out in the 19th century. They won't give much away to anyone.

"We have always been a strong team defensively, that helps us not to lose," said the coach, who will look to his two Atletico Madrid defenders Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, to shut down the route to goal.

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