Soccer-World-Tabarez looks to cement impressive Uruguay legacy

MONTEVIDEO, April 29 (Reuters) - Oscar Washington Tabarez will be the longest-serving and oldest coach of any of the 32 men in charge of the World Cup finalists in Brazil in June. Appointed to lead Uruguay for the second time in May 2006, the only coach who comes close to his longevity is Joachim Loew, who took over his role as Germany coach two months later. And when Tabarez leaves the job his legacy will have been to head Uruguay's most successful national team since 1970 and provide a sound platform for future generations of Uruguayan players. The 67-year-old, nicknamed El Maestro (The Teacher), led Uruguay to the World Cup semi-finals in 2010 and the country's record 15th Copa America crown in 2011. He has successfully handled the team's transition from the World Cup four years ago to the finals in Brazil, introducing new talent while keeping the old guard fresh. Tabarez had serious worries between 2012 and early 2013 when his team dropped 16 points out of a possible 18 in the middle of the 16-match South American qualifying campaign. A 1-0 away win over Venezuela last June, four days before taking part in the Confederations Cup in Brazil, marked the start of their recovery. Tabarez told Reuters the win in Venezuela was crucial to the way the team has grown over the last year. "It was a relief to win that match and it meant we went to the Confederations Cup in a better frame of mind. We also gave Brazil a very hard time last year. I know they beat Spain in the final with more ease than they beat us. "Our motivation levels have grown since that win." Once the Confederations Cup was over, however, Uruguay still had to book their ticket to the World Cup finals via an intercontinental playoff for the second time in a row, something they achieved easily by beating Jordan 5-0 over two legs. Tabarez, a wise man who makes no bones about using defence and counter-attack as his main tactics, has done a lot with a little, given that Uruguay have a population of 3.4 million, less than one 50th of Brazil's. The young talent that matches Argentina's across the Rio de la Plata estuary is groomed with similar conviction and cuts its teeth in a tight Uruguayan league dominated by two major clubs, Nacional and Penarol, who once ranked with the world's best. From this platform Uruguayans have set out to make a mark in the world game. Tabarez has coached at Boca Juniors and AC Milan among other clubs and forwards like Luis Suarez are at leading clubs in Europe's top leagues. Former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan owed almost as much to Tabarez as to his own skills when he was voted the best player at the 2010 finals in South Africa, and at 34 he is still a key member of the squad. The last time the World Cup was held in Brazil, in 1950, Uruguay confounded everyone, not least the host nation, by winning it. Is that historical achievement a help or a hindrance for his men? "It's part of Uruguayan folklore now," Tabarez said. "It has no impact on the present day. These are different times, but as we have proved, at a World Cup, anything can happen." (Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Tony Goodson and Mike Collett)