Hello fans! Uruguay made its debut in the Copa América Centenario 2016 with arguably their toughest game of the group, against Mexico. Could the Celestes overcome Luis Suárez‘s absence to down El Tri and get off to a good start? Let’s take a look!
It’s Never Easy
Mexico has always been a tough match-up for Uruguay in Copa América. El Tri has played the Celestes 5 times and lost only once, winning twice and tying twice. The first meeting happened in 1995 in Montevideo, where host and eventual champion Uruguay tied 1-1 with the Aztecas in the group stage. This was, by the way, the second tournament in which CONCACAF teams were invited to participate.
The two teams met again in 2001 in Colombia, this time in the semifinals. Mexico prevailed, 2-1, and went on to face the hosts in the final (they lost). 3 years later in Peru, they were once again placed in the same first stage group and once again they tied, this time 2-2. In 2007, in Venezuela, Charrúas and Aztecas met in the third place game, won by Mexico 3-1. Finally, in 2011 in Argentina, they faced off for the 4th consecutive tournament, this time in the group stage again. Uruguay won 1-0 to seal their passage to the knockoff round, and would eventually beat Paraguay 3-0 to win their record-setting 15th title. Somehow, last year’s cup in Chile came and went without a Mexico-Uruguay game, but here we are again.
As you know from my tournament preview, Mexico is one of the favorites this year, so playing them in what is basically a home game is not easy. Doing it without your all time best scorer and on-field leader, who also happens to be THE BEST GOD DAMN PLAYER IN THE WHOLE WORLD, is even tougher. El Bolso would be happy with a tie here, especially considering the relatively low caliber of the other two teams in the group, but I knew the Celestes would have to work hard to get that much.
Behind the 8 Ball
The game got off to a bad start for the Celestes, as the PA system at the University of Phoenix stadium mistakenly played the Chilean national anthem (does Trump own the University of Phoenix too?) Things got even worse five minutes into the game, when Álvaro “Palito” Pereira got his face in the way of an Andrés Guardado cross and put the ball past keeper Fernando Muslera. You can’t really blame Palito, who couldn’t really get out of the way in time and was nearly knocked unconscious a couple of minutes earlier; you CAN blame him for being the worst player on the field throughout the first half, though; he was bad enough to have El Bolso calling for backup Jorge Fucile. Whatever; good cross, bad luck, 1-0 bad guys.
Uruguay never really found its best game (or anything remotely resembling it) in a choppy, defensive half that had only 4 clear chances on goal, 2 for each side: Palito’s goal, a cross that would have been the second goal if not for some miscommunication between the Mexican forwards, another cross that was barely cleared by the Mexican defense, and a deep run by Edinson Cavani, which turned into a withering shot brilliantly parried by El Tri goalie Alfredo Talavera. Guradado should have seen a red card for a horrendous challenge, but only got a yellow (I know he deserved it because the Mexican announcers complained about it). That mistake was evened out when Carlos Sánchez retaliated with a hard foul on Guardado himself and saw a yellow as well. Near the end of the half, Matías Vecino got himself redcarded, because he didn’t think the second half would be hard enough. Mexico led at the half, having scored the only goal by a CONCACAF team in 4 and a half games this far; they were the better team on the field, but not by much. Uruguay, meanwhile, looked lost up front, unable to get going against a tight Mexican defense. Missing Suárez yet, fans?
La Garra Charrúa
You know what? I’m going to go ahead and apologize to Vecino. He is clearly a student of fútbol history and knows that La Celeste only gets shinier as the road gets muddier. Being a man down energized Uruguay, which played El Tri even for the first 30 minutes of the second half, although there weren’t many clear scoring chances (Hi, Luis!). That changed in the 73rd minute, when Guardado finally got his red card after fouling Sánchez from behind. Uruguay took advantage immediately: Sánchez himself sent a wicked cross into the box, and Diego Godín (because of course he would score a huge goal, who else is it going to be) headed it into the net to tie the game up at 1-1.
Unfortunately, the happy times didn’t last. The goal seemed to wake Mexico up, and they regained control of the game, pushing the Celestes into their own end of the field. With just five minutes left in the game, the ageless Rafael Márquez grabbed a loose ball in the penalty area and hammered it home; Héctor Herrera would add another goal in added time for a 3-1 final score.
So what now? Well, as happens often, Uruguay is off to a weak start and basically needs to win out to move on; the good news is, this really does happen often. Remember 2 years ago, a Suárez-less Celeste was beaten by the same 3-1 score by Costa Rica in the opening game of their World Cup group, and they made it to the knockout phase. Now I don’t know about you, but Venezuela and Jamaica don’t look like England and Italy to me, so I don’t think we can count Uruguay out, but we’ll see what this team is made of on Thursday when they play Venezuela, a 1-0 winner over the Reggae Boyz. Hopefully TBGDPITWW will be more than a spectator then, but even if he’s not, there’s enough talent on this team to get a win. Vamo’ Uruguay Nomaaaaaaaaa!
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