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Hello fans! El bolso here with another 2018 World Cup Qualifiers report. The second round of the CONMEBOL tournament is complete, and Uruguay is off to a good start. Let’s get to it!

 

The Replacements 2

 

Stop me if you've heard this before: Sanchez sends it in... (Ovacion Digital)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Sanchez sends it in… (Ovacion Digital)

 

It seems like the big story so far in these qualifiers has been the big absences: Argentina has been struggling without Lio Messi (more on that later), but there are plenty  of other teams missing key pieces. Last night, Colombia started neither James Rodríguez nor Radamel Falcao (although Falcao came in late in the game) because of injuries, which made Uruguay’s task significantly easier. But as we discussed last time, La Celeste is itself far from full strength: no Luis Suárez, no Edinson Cavani, no Óscar Tabárez on the bench, no Egidio Arévalo Ríos despite pregame assurances that he’d be ready. Maxi Pereira did return to the starting 11, though, replacing the injured Cristian “the Onion” Rodríguez and pushing Álvaro “Little Stick” Pereira back into the midfield. The only other change from the Bolivia game was up front, where  TCR favorite Diego Rolán replaced Abel “the Jewel” Hernández.

 

Given Colombia’s strong recent past, as well as Uruguay’s traditional penchant for pissing away any small advantage as soon as they acquire it, I was not especially hopeful for this game. The last time Uruguay began a WC qualifier with 2 straight wins was 50 years ago, in the runup to England 1966. Still, the Celestes have completely owned Colombia atthe Centenario over the last decade, and they had just made some history by beating Bolivia in the La Paz altitude, so I wasn’t giving up on a win. Let’s  just say Uruguay would have to play against type in order to do it.

 

Who Are You and What Have You Done With My Celestes?

 

... there's Godin... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLL!!!(Ovacion Digital)
… there’s Godin… GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLL!!!(Ovacion Digital)

 

I’ll be up front about this: I did not watch any part of this game. I wanted to, but I was stuck taking the little Bolsos to swimming class, so all I had to go by were online reports and Jobu’s running commentary. So I’m not going to give you a detailed description of the game itself, which Uruguay won convincingly by a 3-0 score. Wait what? Yes, you heard right. The Celestes took control of this game early and executed a flawless defensive performance, shutting down the Colombian attack and setting themselves up for lethal counterattacks. So glad I missed it! Anyway, the Celestes opened the scoring late in the first half, using the same formula that gave them a win 5 days ago in Bolivia: a cross by TCR’s alltime favorite hairless superstar Carlos Sánchez (this time it was  a corner kick) and a timely strike from a defender (Captain Diego Godín once again putting his head to good use). That was the score at halftime, but Uruguay would continue their domination after the break, and finished off Colombia by actually getting goals from the forwards: first Rolan put a sick move on poor goalie David Ospina after receiving a long through ball, then near the end it was The Jewel, a late game substitution by interim coach Celso Otero, making both the defense and keeper look foolish. The win keeps the Celestes at the top of the table, tied now with Ecuador and Chile. The only blemish on the night was the fact that Otero was once again forced to make a first half substitution due to injury, as Martín Cáceres hurt his ankle a few minutes in. Given The Bald One’s superlative play so far and his history of injuries, let’s hope this one isn’t too bad. We need him out there.

 

Now What?

 

Meanwhile, we are that much closer to a solid month of "In World Cup, Uruguay sky blues you!" jokes (kansascity.com)
Meanwhile, we are that much closer to a solid month of “In World Cup, Uruguay sky blues you!” jokes (kansascity.com)

 

It’s hard to find fault in how first week of qualifiers went, but being Uruguayan I am honor-bound to try: yes, Uruguay got the job done, but so did their Ecuador and Chile. In the qualifiers you always root for Argentina and Brazil (because you figure they’ll find a way to crack the top 5 in the end anyway), and otherwise youwant to see lots of ties. You want the non-traditional powers to lose ground, and that didn’t really happen. Yes, Uruguay made history, but we all know how easy the Celestes can turn a favorable position into a calculator situation (that’s when fans need their adding machines to figure out the combination of results that will land the team in the World Cup). We like to joke that the Uruguayan Federation must have put all their money into Texas Instruments stock back in the day. Besides, this is just getting started, and the Celestes have beaten two hobbled teams. We’ll know a lot more after the November slate of games (Ecuador on the road, followed by Chile at home).

 

Still, there’s a lot to like here: 2 games, 6 points, 5 goals for, 0 against! The team also managed to survive Cavani’s suspension without dropping any points (cue obligatory “maybe we’re better off without him” joke). Barring injury, El Matador will be back against Ecuador, and Tabárez will be behind the bench for the Chile game. After that comes Brazil and the return of The Gunslinger (yes, Suárez’s ridiculous suspension is almost over), so the team will be back at full strength. In the meantime, I hope that these games have given the rest of the squad the knowledge that they can win big games without their prized forwards, something that can come in hand down the road.

 

And that’s all for today. See you in November, fans!

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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