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Jobu reviews the first game of Nacional’s quest for a fourth Copa Libertadores championship.

It took about ten days before I finally got the itch to write while on my vacation to Uruguay. While I have a lot to say about my trip, and I may one day share that with you guys, Jobu’s Rum is a sports blog. I really should be talking about Uruguayan sports. So let’s do that. Let’s talk about Nacional’s attempt at a fourth Copa Libertadores championship!

I’m sure some of you have a couple of questions right off the bat. First, you’re probably wondering who Nacional is. Secondly, you might be wondering what the Copa Libertadores is. Am I right? Of course I am. I am Jobu. Let’s start with the first question. We plan on some day having a post about the History of Nacional, but I’ll give you a quick rundown now. In Uruguay, like every other country in the world, there is a system of Fútbol leagues. Primera (Premiere League), Segunda (second), and so on. Nacional plays in the Uruguayan Primera. They, along with another club named Peñarol, have basically dominated Uruguayan soccer for the last like 80 years or so. Just a quick fact to amaze you all… from 1932 (when the league became professional) until 1976, Nacional and Peñarol were the only two teams to win the Uruguayan Primera league championship. Think about that for a minute. Nacional also happens to be my family’s favorite team.

As far as the Copa Libertadores goes, that one’s easy to explain too. If you’re familiar with the UEFA Champions League, you’ll follow Copa Libertadores quite easily. Basically, the best teams from the countries in the CONMEBOL play each other to see who the best team in the area is. It used to be that only the champions of each country’s league were invited, but the field was expanded to runners up too in 1966. Mexican teams were invited in 1998, and today the field has expanded to the point where at least three clubs per country participate. Sound simple enough? I think so. The tournament works like most other fútbol tournaments do, but a little longer than the World Cup or Copa Ámerica, for example. There’s a preliminary group stage where the “bubble” teams, to steal a phrase from March Madness, play each other. The six teams that make it through that join the 26 other qualifiers in the main group stage. The top two teams from each group then move on to the knockout stages that decide the eventual Champion. Nacional has won the Copa Libertadores three times: 1971, 1980 and 1988.

The 1988 Nacional team won the Copa, and much much more.
The 1988 Nacional team won the Copa, and much much more.

Nacional drew Barcelona (the one from Ecuador, not the one from Spain), Toluca (a Mexican league team) and Boca Juniors (Argentina). Nacional’s first game came on Wednesday, Feb 13th against Barcelona in El Parque Central, Nacional’s home stadium for the last 113 years. I was originally supposed to try to go to this game, but we were unable to score seats. It’s a shame, because it ended up being a pretty exciting finish (although the rest of the game was terrible).

Nacional basically did nothing in the first half, unless you count the two terrible goals they gave up to Damian Diaz (17th minute) and Ariel Nahuelpan (25th minute). Highlights are in the embedded video below, but the first one came after a lucky bounce (although it was a great finish by Diaz) and the second on a complete whiff of a defensive mishap by Nacional.

All of that terribleness set up the improbable comeback though, so I guess we’ll take it. In the second half, coach Gustavo Díaz made two key lineup changes, bringing in Sebastián “El Loco” Abreu (whom you all recently got to know) and Alvaro “El Chino” Recoba (whom I’ll be profiling soon). The two elder statesmen of the club immediately made an impact. Abreu basically fooled the defense and goalie by setting up inside the goal on a corner kick and jumping out just in time to nail a header from the far corner in the 69th minute. The second goal was an absolute beauty. In the 92nd minute (that’s right, stoppage time) Recoba got the ball well outside the box on the left side of the field by the sideline, faked out the defender, and seemingly without even looking, nailed a perfect cross between the goalie and the nearest defender to the far side of the net, where Iván Alonso was waiting with a diving header for the equalizer. It was easily one of the nastiest passes I’ve ever seen. You can see it in the video below at the 1:50 mark.

Damián Díaz scored the first of two Barcelona goals. (EFE)
Damián Díaz scored the first of two Barcelona goals. (EFE)

Nacional actually almost won this game. Just a minute or two later they ended up with a corner kick. Recoba nailed it perfectly to the far end of the net for a waiting Abreu, but the ball sailed just inches over the 6’4″ forward’s head. C’est La Vie, as they say. The tie garnered Nacional a point, which is never a bad thing.

One more thing I will mention about this game is that it featured some of the worst refereeing I have ever seen in my life. Enrique Osses, the head ref assigned for this game, missed just about every call there was to make in this one. I’m not even complaining with the intent of blaming him for a non-win for Nacional. He was awful on both sides of the ball. In fact, he probably cost Barcelona the game. At one point, Nacional defender Alejandro Lembo got a second yellow card and was allowed to stay in the game for five full minutes before finally being ejected. For those of you who don’t know, two yellows means a red and an early trip to the showers. How do you not know you’ve given a guy a second yellow? Then, later in the match, Osses ignored a blatant takedown from behind in the box by a Nacional defender. That should have been, without a doubt, a penalty kick. It wasn’t called. Minutes later, Recoba and Alonso combined to tie the game. Seriously, I hope Osses gets suspended or something. He was awful.

Next for Nacional would be the Mexican squad, Toluca. I’ll tell you about that game tomorrow…

Here are the highlights from the game:

Featured image courtesy of: Aguanteche.com

Martin Stezano

About Martin Stezano

Uruguayan born and American raised with a unique perspective on the domestic and international sports scenes. It will both tickle your funny bone and enlighten your mind. Love it or hate it...just read it.

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