Can Uruguay roll back the years at London 2012?
The Paris Olympics of 1924 are best remembered in Britain for providing the backdrop to Chariots of Fire. But for all the heroism of Messrs Liddell and Abrahams, something happened there with far greater consequences - the birth of modern football.
No-one knew much about Uruguay as they sailed their way across the Atlantic to take part in the football tournament. But they strolled to the gold medal with an artistic style of play that captivated spectators and set off a fever for the game.
Four years later, to prove it was no fluke, Uruguay won the gold medal at the Amsterdam Olympics. Argentina came across as well, and they took the silver.
The South Americans, who had been playing a continental competition almost annually since 1916, had taken the game to new heights. But could they beat the English professionals? A new competition was needed, one which was not restricted to amateurs. And so the World Cup was born, its first edition staged - and won - by Uruguay in 1930.
Montevideo's giant Centenario stadium was hurriedly built for the tournament, and remains one of football's great venues. Behind one of its goals is the Colombes stand - named after the Paris stadium where Uruguay won gold in 1924. Behind the other goal is the Amsterdam stand, named after 1928. And the main stand at the side is the Tribuna Olimpica.
The triumphs of almost 90 years ago live on in the collective imagination of the Uruguayan game. 'Other countries have their history,' goes the saying, 'Uruguay has its football.'
To this day, in all sports, Uruguay have only ever won two Olympic golds. But they are now dreaming of a third. For the first time since 1928, the sky blues have qualified for the football tournament so there is a lovely historical resonance about their participation in the 2012 Games. But even with all his enormous respect for his country's footballing past, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez goes into the tournament with a firm eye on the future.
Uruguay's Edinson Cavani in a warm-up match for the Olympic Games. Photo: Getty.
Since his second spell in charge of the national team began some six years ago, things have gone very well for Uruguay on two fronts. The senior side reached the World Cup semi finals in 2010 and won last year's Copa America. And the junior teams have also shown promise in World Cups at Under-17 and Under-20 levels. The London Olympics are where these two strands come together.
It is a very necessary meeting. Uruguay have made a good start to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, standing a point behind leaders Chile with a game in hand. But it is an ageing side and some of its components are starting to creak. Options need to present themselves over the next two years.
So far, though, only two Olympic-age (under-23) players have featured in the five matches of the World Cup qualification campaign - Liverpool centre-back Sebastian Coates and Bologna playmaker Gaston Ramirez. Both have played bit-part roles. Neither has looked entirely convincing.
The Olympics, then, have a key role to play as Uruguay seek to prepare a transition to a new generation.
The choice of over-age players shows clearly that Tabarez sees the Olympic side in the same mould as the seniors. Back in 2006 he made a great fanfare about Uruguay's national teams at all levels going with a 4-3-3 formation. It lasted exactly one competitive game - defeat to Peru in the opener of the 2007 Copa America. "Reality was too strong for us," he confessed later.
Since then pragmatism has been the order of the day. With the same starting line up, the senior side can operate in a number of different formations, but the spirit remains the same. Tabarez points out that in every game of the last World Cup the opposition had more possession but Uruguay had more shots.
Their front line is full of individual talents happy to work together - represented in the Olympic squad by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Behind them lies a workmanlike midfield, which includes the third over-age name in the squad - Egidio Arevalo Rios.
With these three providing the structure, the youngsters will be looking to shine. Coates, for example, will hope to show that he be a long-term replacement for senior captain Diego Lugano. Alongside him Alexis Rolin looks a very interesting centre-back, a late developer but one who has already earned comparisons with Brazil's Thiago Silva.
Or there is Diego Polenta. Stocky, classy and able to play at left-back or in midfield as well as in the centre. Son of a former international, Matias Aguirregaray is an aggressive, attacking right-back.
Places are up for grabs in central midfield. Arevalo Rios might be past his best in 2014. His senior partner Diego Perez certainly will be. High hopes surround the Olympic duo of Maxi Calzada and Diego Rodriguez - the latter, especially, has the combative spirit of Perez and offers more in possession. There are interesting wide attacking options, too, in Tabare Vuidez and Jonathan Urretaviscaya. Abel Hernandez is a quick left-footed striker, too.
The playmaker position is perhaps the most interesting of all. In the World Cup Diego Forlan dropped a few metres deeper to become the brains of the attack and was chosen as player of the tournament. But he will be 35 in 2014. Can Gaston Ramirez step up? He is elegant and talented, with an excellent left foot. But he has looked off the pace when called up to the senior side. In the Olympics the pressure is on him to make the bullets for the likes of Suarez and Cavani to fire.
Another option is Nicolas Lodeiro, the star of the 2009 Under-20 side who was so impressive in the play-off against Costa Rica when Uruguay qualified for the last World Cup.
Since then, not much has gone right for the little left-footed attacking midfielder. He has been hit by injuries and a move to Ajax was not a success - indeed, he has just joined Botafogo in Brazil. He needs a good tournament to recapture the momentum of three years ago.
Uruguay would clearly love to leave London with the long-awaited third gold medal. Even more important, though, is feeding players into their team for 2014, where they will aim for a long-awaited third World Cup win. Pulling that off really would be a cinematic achievement, well worthy of a soundtrack by Chariots of Fire composer Vangelis.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;
Q) Rafael Toloi is a player I've heard of mainly through football management games where he has massive potential. I would just like to know your thoughts on him and whether you think he has the real life potential to become a world class defender.
A) It's a mystery to me why he's not in Brazil's Olympic squad. I think he's streets ahead of Juan or Bruno Uvini not only in experience but also in ability, the kind of combative centre back who could develop into an inspirational leader. Perhaps he suffered from staying with Goias when they went down to the second division - and to be fair I haven't seen much of him over the past year - but he has just joined Sao Paulo, where his visibility will be much greater.