Uruguay are the current reigning South American champions, having won the 2011 Copa América. Uruguay have won the Copa América a record 15 times. The team has twice won the FIFA World Cup, including the first World Cup in 1930 as hosts, defeating Argentina 4–2 in the final. They won their second title in 1950, upsetting hosts Brazil 2–1 in the final match, which received an attendance higher than any football match ever.
They have won the Gold Medals in football at the Summer Olympics twice, in 1924 and 1928, before the creation of the World Cup. Uruguay also won the 1980 Mundialito, a tournament among former World Cup champions. In total, Uruguay have won 20 official titles, a world record for the most international titles held by any country.
Their success is amplified by the fact that the nation has a very small population of around 3.25 million inhabitants (2011 est.). Uruguay is by far the smallest country in the world to have won a World Cup in terms of population, 1.75 million inhabitants in 1930. The second smallest country, by population, to have won the World Cup is Argentina with a population of nearly 28 million people in 1978. Uruguay is also the smallest country ever to win any World Cup medals; only five nations with a currently smaller population than Uruguay's have ever participated in any World Cup: Northern Ireland (3 times), Slovenia (twice), Wales, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Uruguay is also the smallest nation to win Olympic gold medals in any team sport.
Prior to 1916, Uruguay played more than 30 matches, of which all but one were against Argentina. The inaugural Copa America provided Uruguay with more varied opposition. Victories over Chile and Brazil along with a tie against Argentina enabled Uruguay to win the tournament. The following year Uruguay hosted the competition, and retained the title by winning every game. The 1919 Copa America saw Uruguay's first defeat in the tournament, a 1–0 defeat in a playoff with Brazil which went to two periods of extra time, the longest Copa America match in history.
In 1924 the Uruguay team traveled to Paris to become the first South American team to compete in the Olympic Games. In contrast to the physical style of the European teams of the era, Uruguay played a style based around short passes, and won every game, defeating Switzerland 3–0 in the gold medal match. In the 1928 Summer Olympics Uruguay went to Amsterdam to defend their title, again winning the gold medal after defeating Argentina 2–1 in the final. FIFA assumed the responsibility of the organization of the Football Games to be played by FIFA rules and the tournaments would be recognized as World Championships. It only happened twice (1924/1928 Summer Olympics Games) until the creation of it own FIFA World Championship (FIFA World Cup) in 1930.
Following the double Olympic triumph, Uruguay was chosen as the host nation for the first World Cup, held in 1930, the centenary of Uruguay's first constitution. During the World Cup, Uruguay won all its matches, and converted a 1–2 half-time deficit to a 4–2 victory against Argentina at the Estadio Centenario. Due to the refusal of some European teams to participate in the first World Cup, the Uruguayan Football Association urged other countries to reciprocate by boycotting the 1934 World Cup played in Italy. For the 1938 World Cup, France was chosen as host, contrary to a previous agreement to alternate the Championships between South America and Europe, so Uruguay again refused to participate.
Uruguay again won the World Cup in 1950, beating hosts Brazil in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup History. The final was at the Maracanã Stadium in Brazil. Uruguay came from behind to beat the host nation in a match which would become known as the Maracanazo. Many Brazilians had to be treated for shock after the event, such was the surprise of Uruguay's victory.
After their fourth place finish in the 1954 World Cup, the team had mixed performances and after the fourth place finish in 1970, their dominance, quality and performance dropped. They were no longer a world football power and failed to qualify for the World Cup on 5 occasions in the last 9 times. They reached all time lows and were at one time 54th in the FIFA rankings.
However, in 2010 a new generation of footballers created a team that is considered the best in the last 4 decades and caught attention by finishing fourth in the World Cup. A year later, they won the Copa America for the first time in 16 years and broke the record for the most successful team in South America.
Since 1930, Uruguay have played their home games at the Estadio Centenario in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo. The stadium was built as a celebration of the centenary of Uruguay's first constitution, and had a capacity of 90,000 when first fully opened. The stadium hosted several matches in the 1930 World Cup, including the final, which was watched by a crowd of 93,000. Crowds for Uruguay's home matches vary greatly depending on the importance of the match and the quality of the opposition. World Cup qualifying matches often attract crowds of between 50,000 and 73,000.
The first official international match was played in Montevideo in 1901; on that occasion, the Uruguayan squad wore Montevideo club Albion's home kit: Albion was in fact the first domestic side to win a game outside Uruguay, a 1896 match against Argentine Retiro Athletic Club in Buenos Aires.
Between 1901 and 1910, Uruguay wore a variety of different shirts during matches, including solid green and white tops, and even a shirt modeled from the Flag of Artigas. On April 10, 1910, now-defunct River Plate F.C. defeated Argentine team Alumni by 2-1, being the first time an Uruguayan team beat legendary Alumni. That day River Plate wore its alternate jersey, a light blue one due to the home jersey was similar to Alumni's. Ricardo LeBas proposed Uruguay to wear a light blue jersey as a tribute to the victory of River Plate over Alumni. This was approved by president of the Uruguayan Association, Héctor Gómez.
The red jersey that is used in today's away strip was first used at the 1935 Copa América, held in Santa Beatriz in Peru, which Uruguay won. It was not worn again (except for a 1962 FIFA World Cup match, against Colombia) until 1991, when it was officially adopted as the away jersey.
Four stars appear above the team logo on the jersey. Two represent Uruguay's 1930 and 1950 World Cup victories, and the other two represent the gold medals received at the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics and recognised by FIFA as World Championships. However, on FIFA's official website page dedicated to the Uruguayan national team's participation in the final stages of the world cup, only two stars are shown, recognising the two official victories.
Uruguay and Argentina hold the record for the most international matches played between two countries. The two teams have faced each other 198 times since 1901. The first match against Argentina was the first official international match to be played outside the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Uruguay have 4 stars in the emblem, 2 stars from the Gold medals earned in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games (recognized by FIFA as World Championships in accordance with the IOC) and 2 stars from the two World Cups from 1930 and 1950.
1.^ The match between Uruguay and Argentina on 16 May 1901 was organized by Uruguayan club Albion, from whom the team, reinforced with players from rival club Nacional, was selected. The match ended 2–3 in favor of the Argentines. However, since clubs are not allowed to organize official international matches, the match is not considered official.
^Although Canada and the United States played two internationals in 1885 and 1889, neither match is considered official; Canada did not play an official international until 1904 and the USA did not play one until 1916.