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Hello fans! El Bolso is back with another Charrúa Report. Since I was away last week, this one is twice as jam-packed with Uruguayan goodness. Let’s get to it!

 

One Step Forward…

 

YES! Iván Alonso's awful Fred Sanford imitation is back! (Decano.com)
YES! Iván Alonso’s awful Fred Sanford imitation is back! (Decano.com)

I really thought after the big win against Atenas Nacional would get its act together and go on a streak, but the team keeps looking like Jekyll and Hyde, at least in the box scores. On the field, the level of play has improved however, which may be due to the team getting better or the quality of opponents getting lower. Still, the team is still looking way up at the top of the Clausura table, and time is getting short.

 

First up is the game against Wanderers. This one looks a lot worse than it is, as Nacional was by far the better team in the first half, moving the ball well and creating chances, only to be foiled time and time again by its own poor finishing and the play of former Tricolor keeper Leonardo Burián. They should have been up comfortably at the half; instead, some weak defending on a free kick allowed Matias Santos to sneak in and put one in for the Bohemios. The second half was more of the same, with Nacional controlling the run of play but unable to score. Near the end, with the Tricolores pushing all out on the attack, a deadly counterattack by Wanderers finished off a disappointing 2-0 loss. Nacional deserved more, but just couldn’t put the ball in the net.

 

With the Tricolores 9 points behind Clausura leader Peñarol (and up only 8 in the Annual table), a win against Rampla Juniors was mandatory. After losing just one game in all of the Apertura Nacional had now lost 4 of its first 7 Clausura matches. To put this in context, the last time Nacional started an official tournament with 4 losses in 7 games was 1976. But the team responded, building on the level of play from the previous two games and coming away with a crucial 3-1 win. Nacional pushed rampla all over the field, earning huge edges in shots (11-2) and corner kicks (12-1). All the scoring happened in the first half: in the 14th minute, Carlos De Pena ran up the left side and sent a low cross into the box, and Leandro Barcia ran in front of the defense and deftly redirected the ball away from keeper Bernardo Long (don’t you just love that name?). It looked like Nacional was on its way to an easy win, but once again shot itself in the foot with poor defending on set pieces, allowing Rampla to tie the game just five minutes later. Still, Nacional kept up the pressure and was rewarded in the 30th minute when Gastón Pereiro, who finally let his wolverine facial hair grow back, stole a ball near Rampla’s penalty box (he may have fouled his opponent a teensy tiny bit) and sent a cross right into the hand of a Rampla defender. Replays show the handball may have happened barely outside the area, but the referee called the penalty, and Iván Alonso stepped to it and converted like a boss to give Nacional a 2-1 lead. Less than two minutes later, another cross by De Pena eluded both Barcia and the two defenders shadowing him, leaving Alonso all alone in front of the open net for an easy score. And that was that. Nacional had several clear opportunities to add to the lead in the second half, but could not convert. Still, they played well, they converted when they needed to, and look like they’re rounding into fo…  wait, I’m not falling for this again. We’ll see what happens next week.

 

In the meantime, Peñarol’s loss to Danubio means the Tricolores are once again within 6 points of the Clausura lead, and more importantly have regained their 11 point advantage in the Annual table, this time with only 21 points left in play. With a relatively favorable schedule ahead it does look like Nacional will earn first place overall, and with that an advantage in the end of year playoffs and a spot in the Libertadores group stage. Let’s just hope they keep playing like they have in the last few weeks.

 

finally, some sad news to report: it looks like it’s the end of the road for Alvaro Recoba. The popular “Chino,” who has been out of commission while rehabbing an injury, told the press that he’s planning to hang them up after this season is over. The 39 year old has not been able to get on the field much this semester, and he’s taking that as a sign that it’s time to close up shop. Good for you, Chino. Here’s hoping Nacional can see you off with a championship trophy, and that there’s enough time left for just one more bit of magic.

 

Two Steps Back

 

Yep. That about tells the story about Uruguay's performance in this year's Libertadores. (InfoBAE)
Yep. That about tells the story about Uruguay’s performance in this year’s Libertadores. (InfoBAE)

It was not a good couple of weeks for Uruguayan teams in the Libertadores, folks. First, Danubio continued its horrible run through Group 3 by losing 4-0 to Corinthians. There’s not a lot to say about this one; Peruvian international Paolo Guerrero had a hat trick, and that was pretty much that. The bad news continued for the Charrúas, as Conmebol announced that forward Marcelo Tabarez failed a doping test administered after a game against Sao Paulo (also a 4-0 loss). They also confirmed that this was not do to recreational substances. So Danubio has now played 4 group games and collected no points, scoring twice and allowing 12 goals. They’ve visited the city of Sao Paulo twice and collected 8 goals against. And the worst part is that apparently they did that while on PEDs. Hey, at least they’re back in first place in the Clausura! They’re making last year’s Nacional Libertadores performance look good.

 

Ah, but then there’s Wanderers, right? The Bohemios entered this past week as the odds-on favorite to accompany Group 5 Boca Juniors into the knockout round, but after a 3-0 home loss to the Xeneixes and Palestino’s 4-0 win against Zamora, the team finds itself in third place and staring at elimination. Both Wanderers and Palestino have 7 points, but the Chileans’ goal differential is +2, while the Bohemios now have a -2. I nthe last round of games, Wanderers must go to Venezuela while Palestino travels to La Boca; the Celestes need to earn a better results than their Chilean rivals in order to move through. It’s going to be tough, though not impossible.

 

As of right now, Uruguay is the second worst performing country in the tournament, with 10 total points in 11 games (3 points for Nacional in the playoff, and 7 points for Wanderers in the group stage). Only Venezuela has a worse total, with only 8 points in 16 games. It looks like the Wanderers-Zamora match may decide who ends up in last place. Hey, at least Uruguay has one team still in contention, right? This is embarrassing. Here’s hoping Wanderers can earn back some small measure of dignity for their league.

 

Around the World

 

SAUSAGE! SAUSAGE! SAUSAGE! (Liga Profesional de Futbol)
SAUSAGE! SAUSAGE! SAUSAGE! (Liga Profesional de Futbol)

Holy crap Chori Castro! The former Nacional attacker scored La Liga’s best goal this week in Real Sociedad’s 2-2 tie against Deportivo La Coruña. By the way, Castro’s real first name is Gonzalo; “Chori” is short for Chorizo, because who doesn’t like being called “sausage”? Castro likes it so much he put it on the back of his jersey. World soccer is complicated.

 

Edinson Cavani has been making more news off the pitch than on lately: first he was being transferred to Manchester United or Liverpool, then he wasn’t, then he was not speaking to his coach, and on and on. But this past weekend was different. With PSG facing Bastia in the French Cup final, Cavani rose to the occasion to help his team reel in yet another trophy. After watching from the bench as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored two first half goals, Cavani came on in the 74th minute and got a brace of his own in a 4-0 win. He may still be leaving at the end of the season, but he’s trying to make sure PSG fans will miss him dearly when he does; I mean, just watch his first goal against Bastia! PSG continues to cling to a one point lead in Ligue 1 with only 7 matches remaining, and will face Barcelona this week in the Champions League quarterfinals; they’ll need Edinson at his best to get by the next few weeks.

 

Luis Suárez’s Barcelona stumbled against Sevilla this weekend, wastig a 2-0 road lead and coming away with only a tie. The Blaugrana’s lead over Real Madrid is now only 2 points with 8 matches left, so it looks like another photo finish for the Gunslinger; hopefully Steven Gerrard won’t be involved this time around. even though Luis was shut down in Sevilla, he did score two goals last weekend against Almería, bringing his season total in La Liga to 10.

 

Mauricio Pereyra has also been busy lately; the former Nacional midfielder has scored three goals in his last two games to help lift FK Krasnodar to second place in the Russian Premier League (and a Champions League spot for next season). Pereyra scored the team’s opening goal in a 3-2 derby win against Kuban Krasnodar this past weekend, following two scores in a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Rubin Kazan, one of FKK’s main rivals for second place (FK Zenit is pretty much guaranteed to finish first).

 

And that’s all for today, friends. Nacional won, so you know what comes next: Pasión Pasióóóóóóóóóóóón Tricoloooooooooooor… See you next week!

 

El Bolso

About El Bolso

El Bolso is Uruguay’s foremost soccer-fan-in-exile, a true authority on the Celeste and its favored son, the Club Nacional de Football. He believes in precision passing, tireless marking, and strong finishing, and is not above the occasional slide tackle from behind when the situation calls for it.

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