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Uruguay, the world’s best soccer team (well, kinda)

by Cristopher Rubio

Question: What country has been crowned the South American soccer champion (Copa América winner) the most times? Well, it’s not Brazil or Argentina. Though since you read the title you probably already guessed it: Uruguay.

But here’s something that you might have not thought about: The same country that has won the most South American championships is also the least populated country (3.5 million people) of all ten that participate in South American fútbol.

To put this in perspective, Los Angeles, the city in California, has a population of 3.7 million people. Imagine L.A. producing a soccer team that has won two World Cups, 15 South American Championships, and finished fourth (while producing the tournament’s best player, Diego Forlán) in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It would never happen! If you magically dropped Uruguay in Central America, they’d have the second smallest population…and the best team by far.

In the U.S., high school sports teams are grouped based on their enrollment. It wouldn’t be fair to have a high school with 500 students regularly compete against a high school with 3,000 students would it? The larger high schools have a much larger pool to select athletes from, making them more likely to be better.

But in soccer, countries compete with each other, regardless of population. However, if we factored in country’s populations, much like the way boxing factors in weight for its pound-for-pound rankings, it’s hard to make the argument that Uruguay isn’t the best international soccer team in the world. So how the heck do Los Charrúas do it?

According to Soccernomics by Kuper and Syzmanksi, international soccer success is attributed to three things: population, income, and experience. We’ve covered their small population, but Uruguay’s large middle class, and relatively even distribution of wealth help make up for their small population. They’ve also been playing soccer longer than most countries, and the European influence in Uruguay hasn’t hurt either.

You could make the argument that a lot of Uruguay’s success came while the rest of the world was still playing catch-up. Their World Cup wins occurred in 1930 and 1950, the latter being one of the most famous wins in soccer history – a win in the final against Brazil in front of 160,000 Brazilians in the Estádio do Maracanã. And most of their Copa América wins happened pre-1950.

But, I still think you have to give credit where credit is due. Their Under-17 team made it to the final of the 2011 U-17 World Cup, they finished fourth in the world in 2010, and they won the Copa América this past July. Their national league has produced a combined eight Copa Libertadores winners (Peñarol with 5, Nacional with 3). Besides Forlán, they’ve also produced Liverpool star Luis Suárez (you might remember him for one of the more famous handballs not from Diego Maradona).

So there you have it, La Celeste, the best soccer team in the world…per capita.

To learn more about Cris, visit El Kamino Real.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Great article and I love and live in Uruguay. But..they are playing well above their weight class. Most of the world teams appear to be in decline at the moment (with the exception of Germany). So its a bit of a lull period at the moment. I don’t expect Uruguay to ever do as well in another World Cup though I would dearly love them to. They have won the copa sudamerica 15 times but Brazil never plays well in South America and Ecuador, Peru et al aren’t really scintilating competition. Remember too that Uruguay only just made it into the 2010 World Cup. A last minute goal against Ecuador kept them in 5th place and got them into a play off with Costa Rica. So Uruguay is never dominant, relies to a degree on luck, has a great team ethic and grow with confidence as the tournament progresses. The final against Paraguay in the copa america in Buenos Aires was the exception. Basically a home game where they galvanized their talent and confidence to show they are the best in South America at the moment. They also have one of the best coaches in the world in Tabárez.

  2. Thanks for the comment Scott! I agree that Uruguay is playing above their weight class, that was kinda the whole point of the article. Again, not saying Uruguay is actually the best team in the world, but per capita they have to be! And as far as making it back to semifinals…it’d be hard for them to get back there, but it’s definitely possible. I was aware that they juuuuust squeaked into the WC in the first place! Brazil has over 11 million registered soccer players, Argentina has about 2.5 million. This means that Uruguay has a smaller male population than these countries have registered soccer players! Historically they’re not better than Argentina or Brazil but for such a small country they’re definitely futbol giants!

  3. Hector says:

    Great article Chris and thank you for publishing it on our Independance day, but we are not in our weight class? I’m sorry I will have to disagree with that Chris and Scott.Uruguay has been absent from the main tournaments do to the corruption in our federation by Mr Casal,that ended with the arrival of Tabarez.If you live in Uruguay Scott you should now this.If anything we are back in our weight class. Let me tell you something about Uruguayans we have been raised hearing about our greatness and our past accomplishments its like telling yourself over and over something eventually it will come true. In other countries people idolize super heroes or military figures in Uruguay we are told about Obdulio Varela, Ghiggia, Nassazi the Forlans that have 3 generations of champions, among many others that displayed great bravery on the field with LA Celeste. You don’t just stumble upon 15 copa americas and I don’t understand how you say that Uruguay has luck what we have is Huevos and I don’t know if you know what that is but you should look it up. A Uruguayan when he puts on the national jersey he is willing to die on the field for it and we can beat anybody on any day because we love our jersey and country. Futbol in Uruguay is not a hobby or game its a religion, everybody in Uruguay knows a player or is related to one. I don’t know if you notice but Uruguay is never completely out of a match we will play until the final whistle blows. I’m not saying that Uruguay is the best but we are definitely among the them as well as the elite list of World Champions not once or twice but 4 times. I guarantee you that you have not seen the last of the first world champions. We might get another Maracanazo in 2014. I apologize for the spelling and don’t mean any disrespect to either of you gentleman, just my humble and and very pride full opinion.

  4. Just for the record, please don’t forget that we also have two of the greatest club teams in the world in Peñarol and Nacional of Montevideo. Both of these teams have won 3 world club championships each and were only caught by multi-national sides like AC Milan and Real Madrid in the last few years, Nacional last winning it in 1988 (i.e. the modern era) against a combination of the 1988 Dutch squad and ROMARIO up front!! Nacional with a purely home grown team defeats (and outplays, may I add) a great PSV side to win the World CLub Championship. I might also add, that the 80s was Uruguay’s era, in terms of the most successful clubs in the world, having being crowned world champions, or at least second place in 1981 Champions Nacional, 1982 Champions Peñarol, 1987 Runner-up Peñarol, 1988 Champions Nacional. Truly phenomenal to think that Uruguay, unlike their European counterparts, never required foreigners to be world beaters in club football, and with less than 3.5 million inhabitants. Let us also not forget the contribution they made to other clubs in Latin America and Europe.

  5. Some incredible stats-

    2x World Cup Wins
    2x Olympic Gold Medals
    15x Copa America titles (a record and current champions)
    3x World Club Championships Peñarol
    5x Libertadores Champions Peñarol
    3x World Club Champions Nacional
    3x Libertadores Champions Nacional
    Winners of the 1980 FIFA 50th Anniversary “Mundialito”, (Champion of Champions Cup) Played between Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Netherlands, West Germany.

    Other Notable Achievements

    1997 U21 World Youth Championships Finalists
    2011 U17 World Youth Championships Finalists
    2011 FIFA World Cup Semi-Finals

    2x European Golden Boot Diego Forlan

    Let us also remember that we also kick well above our weight in terms of our production line of players, having graced both Europe and Latin America with the likes of-

    Jose Santamaria (one of the greatest defenders in the 60s that played for the greatest Real Madrid team in history)
    Juan Schiaffino (rated by some experts in Italy as the greatest player ever to have played in Serie A)
    Pedro Rocha (Outstanding World Champion with Peñarol, and brilliant in Sao Paulo, Brazil)
    Enzo Francescoli (need I say more)
    Ruben Sosa (a God at Inter Milan)
    Carlos Aguilera (brilliant striker that graced Serie A around the same time as Ruben Sosa)
    Daniel Fonseca (great striker in Serie A)
    Hugo De Leon (great defender and World Champion with both Nacional of Uruguay, and Gremio of Brazil)
    Paolo Montero (great Juventus defender)
    Alvaro Recoba (brilliant)
    Diego Forlan (Twice top scorer in la liga, European Golden Boot, and voted best player of the 2010 World Cup)
    Edinson Cavani (Currently the best striker in Serie A and wanted by just about all the top clubs in Europe)
    Luis Suarez (Made the Dutch League his own, and currently at Liverpool. Top scorer and voted the best player of the 2011 Copa America)
    Gustavo Poyet (High scoring midfielder and had some great seasons with Chelsea)

    Just to name a few…

    Once again, punching well above our weight on the production line as well. My point here is that we are far from being one hit wonders, and our achievements have IN FACT been relatively consistent. Our dry spell began post 1988, (the year of our last official world title with Nacional) until 2010. A 22 year drought. What do we attribute to this temporary demise? Quite simple, $$$ and the menace that is Club vs Country. We are still amoung the best in terms of raw talent, but we cannot compare economically to the world powerhouses. This is our greatest foe.

    For those who say we are has-beens, check this out-

    2010 Senior World Cup Semi-Finals Uruguay
    2011 Copa America Champions Uruguay
    2011 Libertadores Runner-up Peñarol
    2011 U21 South American Runner-up Uruguay
    2011 U17 South American Runner-up Uruguay
    2011 U17 World Cup Runner-up Uruguay

    So it seems that the has-beens tag is a little outdated, and it also seems our future is secure :)

    Here’s an interesting stat. How many South American and World titles would Brazil have with a population of 3.5 million?

    The Answer= 0

    Zip ;)

    They would be no better than Bolivia, so I say, WOMEN OF URUGUAY, WE NEED MORE BABIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. eliana says:

    i am 11 and i am from uruguay though have lived in america since i was two and i do not think that they win by luck. they win by hard work, skill, and determination. And they also won the world cup of world cups where the people who run the world cup took all the past ten victors of the world cup and they competed again and uruguay beat out brazil AND argentina, both of which are in the top 10 soccer teams, and uruguay won the world cup of world cups. And also uruguay haven’t won TWO world cups they’ve won FOUR world cups (at least thats what my mom told me). So when you compare that to brazils 300,000,000 (three-hundred million) uruguay IS is the best soccer team in the world.


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