ABU DHABI // Uruguayans know well about the ability of football to rack nerves.
Their national team progressed to the semi-finals in 2010 after winning an excruciatingly tense match against Ghana that went into penalties.
“I still remember the game against Ghana in 2010 as it was yesterday. We will always remember those last two minutes,” said Martin Fernandez, 29, from Montevideo.
This year, the team face equally stern tests. Uruguay lost to Costa Rica, 3-1 in the opening game of the group stage, and must also face England and Italy.
Alvaro Puente is also conservative about his country’s chances this year.
“My hope for Uruguay is to win the World Cup, but I know that is very difficult to happen,” said Mr Puente, 33, an economist.
“We have a tough group and if we can clear it, I guess we’ll become stronger for the next games. In Spanish we say la esperanza es lo ultimo que se pierde — the last thing to be lost is hope.”
Pablo Pacareu, a student at New York University Abu Dhabi from Montevideo, said Uruguay is in one of the most difficult groups – if not the most difficult.
“But if we manage to come out victorious, then we might have a shot at going far in the championship,” said Mr Pacareu, 20, who studies electrical engineering.
Most optimistic is perhaps Maria Laura, a 29-year-old food engineer who works for a poultry company.
“I think we will be in the final against Brazil and have the opportunity to repeat what happened in 1950,” she said.
That year, Uruguay shocked the world with its 2-1 win over host nation Brazil, in what’s now known as El Maracanazo.
“For people of my age and younger, the last four years have been of great joy,” said Mr Puente.
“After years and years of living from the past and hearing stories of the great Maracanazo feat in 1950, I think that finally we are looking forward and [starting] to believe again in our team and potential.”
The team is packed with talent such as striker Luis Suarez, who plays his club football at Liverpool, as well as defender Diego Godin, goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and striker Edinson Cavani.
Despite this, Mr Fernandez said it would be difficult for the Uruguayans get as far as they did in 2010.
“We still have most of players who played in 2010 and the team is still not old,” he said.
“If we clear the first stage of the group, we should be happy. If this happens, then it all depends on which are the opponents. It’s impossible to predict the opponents but if we clear the group I am confident we will be a difficult team to beat for any team.”
But to do well, the players need to focus and work as a team, Mr Puente added.
“During the last World Cup in South Africa, I saw my country living a special moment,” said Ms Laura. “Regardless from which religion, political thoughts or social class you were, we were all together in the street celebrating. It was amazing, I have never seen something like that in my country before.
“I hope we can repeat this and have a bigger celebration.”
The World Cup is a special time, but while other matches may be time to enjoy the football atmosphere in Dubai, for these expatriates, watching Uruguay play is serious business.
“We usually watch the matches surrounded by only Uruguayans,” said Ms Laura. “So it is typical for us to watch the game in a friend’s house all together — not to go to a public space full of rivals, we have to focus on the game.”
“When it comes to Uruguay games, I am very peculiar and I guess most of Uruguayans are,” said Mr Puente.
“I like to watch the games alone or with a few friends — only Uruguay supporters. I feel the game just as if I was on the field, not much speaking and really concentrated. I end up exhausted.”
“We can go to bars for Argentina games,” said Mr Fernandez.