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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ello fans! It was a rough week here at El Bolso headquarters. Let’s just get it over with…

 

You Win Some, You Lose Some…

 

Uruguay's inability to turn superiority over Colombia into goals cost them dearly in the end. (El Universo)
Uruguay’s inability to turn superiority over Colombia into goals cost them dearly in the end. (El Universo)

 

The last week of the South American U20 Championship started out well for Uruguay: losses by Peru (5-0 to Brazil) and Paraguay (3-0 to Argentina) on Wednesday night eliminated both teams from contention for World Cup spots, giving the Lil’ Celestes a spot in their 5th consecutive FIFA Youth World Cup. In the final game, however, Uruguay was unable to put in in goal against Colombia despite a owning an 11-5 edge in shots. Uruguay took it to the hard hitting Colombians (22 fouls vs. 10 for Uruguay) all game long, but was both unlucky and imprecise in key moments. This mean that they would have to beat Argentina in order to win the tournament and qualify for the Olympics, but they were almost guaranteed second place and an Olympic qualifier playoff against a CONCACAF team. The only thing that could keep them out would be a complete collapse by Brazil against the Colombians, and surely that couldn’t possibly happen? Surely Brazil has too much pride and ability to allow that to happen?

 

Yeah, right. Saturday night began with Peru taking it to Paraguay 3-1 to avoid last place in the group. That sure was an honorable performance by the Peruvians, who gave it their all despite having just about nothing to play for. Immediately following that, Brazil took the field and acted as if Colombia had shown up wearing Germany kits. A lackadaisical performance by the used-to-be World greats led to a 3-0 Colombia win; if I were a little more cynical, I would argue that the two late goals and the comically bad performance by the Brazilian keeper pointed to some sort of shady business. But I’m not that type of person, so let’s just move on.

 

That last added-time goal by Colombia meant that a tie was no longer enough for Uruguay to secure second place; the Lil’ Celestes would have to take the game to the Argentinians, and take it they did: in the 8th minute, wunderkind Rodrigo Amaral took possession on the left wing and proceeded to abuse his marker like an old chew toy. He finally got tired of embarrassing his rival and put a low cross right through the front of the goal, where Gastón Pereiro ‘s deft touch gave Uruguay the lead. so far so good, right? But it wasn’t to be. Argentina seemed a little nervous at the start, more interested in getting away with sly punches than playing soccer, but eventually they found their form and proved too much for Uruguay. Two goals, both on less-than-stellar defensive efforts by the Uruguayan backline, turned the match around and gave the Albicelestes the title, leaving Uruguay out of the Olympics yet again.

 

So what’s the takeaway for the Lil’ Celestes? I think they deserved better than they got; they were clearly better than both Brazil and Colombia in their final round games but could not find the net. Losing to Argentina on home soil is no shame, but it hurts, as does missing out on the Rio Olympics. However, they’re back in the World Cup and have turned themselves into one of the top three teams in South America at this level, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. They’ll need to practice their finishing for New Zealand, where they will be in a tough Group (D, along with Mexico, Serbia, and a TBD African squad), but with Amaral, Pereiro keeper Gastón Guruceaga and the rest of this team, they have the potential to make some serious noise. We’ll see how it plays out.

 

Alive!

 

Palestino players celebrate their go... wait a second, is that Walter White in the back? (Ferplei)
Palestino players celebrate their go… wait a second, is that Walter White in the back? (Ferplei)

Moving on to the club scene, Nacional had a less-than-positive experience on the other side of the Andes, losing 1-0 to Deportivo Palestino in the first of two matches for a spot in the Libertadores group stage. The game was evenly contested until the 34th minute, when all-World defender Diego Polenta was sent off on what, to be charitable, I will simply refer to as the worst call in Libertadores Cup history. After that the game became the Gustavo Munua show, as the Nacional keeper did everything he could to keep the game tied. The Chileans finally broke through in the 70th minute on a shot from just inside the box, and that was that; Nacional heads back to Montevideo needing a win to keep their Libertadores dream alive. It could have been worse, though, as Palestino thoroughly dominated the run of the game and even had a second goal wrongly disallowed (see the game highlights here).

 

Even though a 1-0 loss on the road is not a terrible result, let’s not sugarcoat it: there’s a lot for Alvaro Gutiérrez to be worried about. Nacional showed very little in their visit to Chile, and is now in a must-win situation against a team that can be lethal in the counterattack. They will be without Polenta and without their fans (the game will be played in a closed stadium due to last year’s disturbances against Newell’s Old Boys). It’s not looking good for the Tricolores. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Nacional was without either Pereiro or Alvaro Recoba, both of whom could see big minutes this week. I just don’t know what will happen. Let’s hope the good guys can pull it out. This week also marks the return of Nacional to local tournament action, as the Tricolores will face Defensor Sporting on Sunday. I’ll be here to tell you all about it next week.

 

I know Jobu told you all about Atlético Madrid’s 4-0 shellacking of cross-town rival Real, so I won’t belabor the point, but I should add that Charrúa Report favorite Diego Godín had his nose broken in the 8th minute and stayed on the entire game, helping to shut down Real’s offense and establishing Atlético as the true king of Madrid: in 6 derbies so far this season, the Colchoneros have won 4 and tied 2, eliminating Real from both the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercopa. The biggest beneficiary of the match, though, may have been Barcelona. The Blaugrana smacked Athletic Bilbao around 5-2 (including a goal and an assist from Luis Suárez) and are now just one little solitary point behind the La Liga leaders.

 

That’s it for this week, fans. I’ll be here next week with more Nacional news and a preview of the U17 South American tournament!

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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