Uruguay, a low-lying country of rolling plains and hills around two thirds the size of the UK, hosted the very first FIFA World Cup back in 1930, and won, defeating neighbouring Argentina in the final.

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The poster from the 1930 World Cup

Despite its size – it is slightly larger than England – Uruguay has a population of just over three million, but that hasn’t stopped its talented footballers winning the competition on two separate occasions, and reaching the semi-finals in 2010.

What else do we know about the homeland of Luis Suárez?

1) Uruguay means ‘river of the painted birds’. It is named after an old South American Indian word for the River Plate, which runs through the capital Montevideo. The full name of the country is the Eastern Republic of Uruguay.

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2) The mouth of the River Plate was the site of a famous battle between the Royal Navy and the German Navy during the Second World War. Parts of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee lie on the river bed where she was scuttled after the battle.

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The wreck of the Admiral Graf Spee

3) Originally part of the Spanish Empire, and later the Portuguese and Brazilian Empires, Uruguay’s independence was sealed through a treaty brokered by the UK in 1828, at the end of the Cisplatine War between Brazil and the United Provinces (Argentina).

4) As in neighbouring Argentina, the British Empire had a long-term influence on Uruguay. Among those influences was the introduction of football by English sailors in the late 19th century, alongside rugby and cricket.

5) During the late 1970s and early 1980s Uruguay came under military rule, and many opponents of the regime were imprisoned or killed. This ended in 1985. 

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Image by Vince Alongi, licensed with Creative Commons

Current president José Mujica (above) was once a Marxist guerrilla and is famous for his austere lifestyle, living in a farm and travelling around in an old Volkswagen Beetle. He also donates the bulk of his salary to charity.

6) Cows outnumber people two-to-one in Uruguay, which is famous for its high quality beef. Many local dishes – such as chivito – feature beef cooked rare.

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Uruguay cattle image by wegoslow.com

The national drink Yerba Mate is a herbal tea traditionally drunk from gourds through silver straws.

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Yerba Mate image by Tomáš Petrů, licensed under Creative Commons

7) Cannabis has been legal in Uruguay for recreational or medical use, cultivation and distribution since December 2013, It is regulated and taxed and users cannot consume it in public places.

8) Capital Montevideo is more than ten times larger than Uruguay’s next largest city, Salto, where Suárez was born.

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9) Uruguay has the lowest level of crime in South America. However, its prisons are notoriously overcrowded and prisoners suffer poor conditions, sometimes without appropriate healthcare, hygiene and access to clean water, according to Amnesty International.

10) Uruguay is said to have exported more than 1,400 footballers during the first decade of this century, chiefly to neighbouring Argentina and southern Europe.

Bournemouth Echo: Diego Forlan

Famous Uruguayans in the English Premier League recently have included Sebastián Coates, Diego Forlán (above) – player of the tournament in the 2010 World Cup – Gus Poyet and Gastón Ramírez.