The Centenario seems curiously aware of its own legacy. It exudes importance from the moment the visitor enters its impeccable museum, tucked under one of the lateral stands. Rather than the hagiographic story-telling of a club or nation’s triumphs one usually receives when entering such establishments, the emphasis here is on a celebration of the game itself, in Uruguay and across the world. Images of Obdulio Varela’s winner for Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup decider against Brazil, therefore, sit comfortably alongside a replica of the shirt Sir Geoff Hurst wore when he made his own piece of history sixteen years later. It is as if the tiny South American republic can afford to be magnanimous in its telling of the football tale, secure as it is in the knowledge that as four-time world champion it has already played its part in making the game the universal behemoth it is.
The above sentence needs no correction. Uruguay, it is true, have lifted the World Cup on two occasions, that debut victory over Argentina in the partially completed Centenario followed with the famous Maracanazo that destroyed the hopes of neighbours Brazil. On the Celeste shield, however, four stars shine proudly from players’ chests. To understand the reason for this anomaly of arithmetic, further inspection of the nation’s most illustrious sporting arena is required.