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Hello fans! It’s time for yet another CONMEBOL 2018 World Cup qualifiers round, and El Bolso is excited! Uruguay started the week off with a home game against last place Venezuela. Easy peasy? Not so fast. Let’s get to it!

 

Playing with House Money?

 

The Celestes are a strong-looking group, but they really need to find a more competent barber. (Scoopnest)
The Celestes are a strong-looking group, but they really need to find a more competent barber. (Scoopnest)

 

When we last checked in on the qualifiers, Uruguay had gone through 2 tough games and came through still leading the overall table, although they were still within a few points of 6th place. Still, for seasoned Celeste fans this was uncharted territory, and our hands felt a little empty without the traditional calculator. Basically, this tournament feels like that episode of SNL Celebrity Jeopardy where Will Ferrell says “you couldn’t possibly screw this up… and now let’s see how you managed to screw it up.” We’re all waiting for the team to fall into a funk where they lose 3-4 games in a row, usually dropping winnable points at home, and we’re once again on the outside looking in and needing a heroic end run to make it to the Intercontinental playoffs. Don’t judge. When you’ve been burned as often as we have, this is what you do.

 

And boy, did this game feel like the perfect time for the Celestes to take a step back: it’s a home game against the last place team, one of those games you’re expected to win, and those are the ones that usually haunt this team. Plus, even though Venezuela has been a Trumpian-scale dumpster fire so far in these qualifiers (2 points in 8 games!), they almost beat Argentina last month, and they’ve played Uruguay tough in the Óscar Tabárez era. In fact, Uruguay was working on a 16 year winless streak in home WCQ against the Winos (Venezuela’s team nickname is “La Vinotinto,” or “Red Wine” because of the color of their jersey). The Celestes won 3-1 in 2000, then lost 3-0 in 2004 (when Juan Ramón Carrasco was coach), and the 2008 and 2012 games under El Maestro both ended in ties. Let’s also not forget that this is the team that eliminated the Celestes from the Copa América Centenario earlier this year. So they have a history of making Uruguay sweat.

 

Meanwhile, brash Venezuelan coach Rafael Dudamel was making all sorts of waves: he got into a fist fight with a Colombian CONMEBOL official while visiting Montevideo to wrap up preparations for his team’s stay, then told the press earlier this week that if Winos forward Salomón Rondón played for Barcelona, he’d be as good as Luis Suárez. I mean, really, as good as THE BEST GOD DAMN PLAYER IN THE WHOLE WORLD? Settle down, Dudamel. Maybe what he meant to say was that if Rondón were anywhere as good as TBGDPITWW, then he would be playing at Barcelona instead of in some middling PL squad? Whatever. Dudamel should be spending less time throwing punches and spouting absurd theories, and concentrate on finally catching those pesky smurfs.

 

Making Lemonade

 

Venezuela dominated the first half, but Lodeiro was the only one celebrating. (La Diaria)
Venezuela dominated the first half, but Lodeiro was the only one celebrating. (La Diaria)

 

As soon as the game started, true Uruguay fans knew we were in trouble. Venezuela took it to the Celestes right away, their fast forwards making the back line look like extras in a zombie movie. The Winos created chance after chance on Fernando Muslera‘s net and should have taken the lead a couple of times, but were undone by their atrocious finishing. I mean, look at this shit. How on Earth do you miss that? You think TBGDPITWW would miss something like that? Of course not. I mean, sure, Edinson Cavani would, but not Suárez. That’s how you know he’s TBGDPITWW, Dudamel. Anyway, the Winos ran over the Celestes the entire first half, and yet, in this bizarro version of the WCQ, it was Uruguay who took the lead, as much maligned midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro took a flying leap into a Suárez cross and forced the ball past the Venezuelan keeper. After easily the worst half Uruguay has played in this entire tournament, they led 1-0. Still, true fans worried. All it took was one mistake, and the lead could be gone just like that, and then the team would once again be swimming uphill.

 

And then Cavani happened. The PSG striker was basically AWOL the entire first half. Just awful. It was pretty much as if Uruguay had taken the field with 10 men. But El Matador changed all of that in 15 seconds. Uruguay took the opening kickoff and the ball drifted back to Sebastián Coates. Coates sent a long forward pass in TBGDPITWW’s direction, but that was headed away by a Venezuelan defender. Carlos “El Pato” Sánchez got a hold of it and looped it into the box. Cavani and a defender jumped for it and both missed, but as he came down El Matador found the ball bouncing at the edge of the box and shot it into the lower right hand corner of the goal to give Uruguay a 2-0 lead.

 

And that, fans, was the game. Cavani’s nickname has never seemed more appropriate. The Killer broke Venezuela’s spirit. The Winos had just played a dominating half but had gone into the locker room down a goal, and before any of them had barely touched the ball Uruguay was up 2. There is no way I can overstate the yooge-ness of this goal. Not even DJ Trump has goals this yooge (although many people are saying that he has the best goals!). The game was just not the same after that play, as Uruguay took complete control and the Winos were reduced to trying to keep the score line from being embarrassing. They mostly succeeded, although Cavani would add one more score, this time after a cross from Sánchez and a phenomenal back heel form an onrushing TBGDPITWW. Uruguay had chances to add to their lead, but in the end the final score was Good Guys 3, Winos 0.

 

To Dreeeeeeeeeam, the Impossible Dreeeeeeeeeam

 

After a quiet first 45', Fire Marshall Bill absolutely torched Venezuela in the second half. (La Diaria)
After a quiet first 45′, Fire Marshall Bill absolutely torched Venezuela in the second half. (La Diaria)

 

Ok, fans, we are now 9 games in, halfway through the qualifiers. Each team has played every other team once, and Uruguay is still sitting on top of the table, moving ever closer to direct qualification. Ok, it’s time for a history lesson. There have been 5 WCQ tournaments in which Intercontinental playoffs decided the last few spots. Uruguay has been in those playoffs in 4 of them (the last 4). The playoff is pretty much a Uruguayan birthright at this point. In fact the last time the Celestes qualified to a World Cup directly was in 1990 (and who was the team coach then? Why Óscar Tabárez!). If the Celestes manage to snag one of the top 4 spots in this tournament, I will be more surprised than when they won the 2011 Copa América, or even when they reached the last 4 in the 2010 World Cup. This is just not how Uruguay does things.

 

I mean, the Celestes are still just 3 points above the 5th place team, and they have a tough game next week in Barranquilla against Colombia. Coming out of that hell with a tie would be the most impressive result in these qualifiers for the Charrúas, as far as El Bolso is concerned. So in 5 days we could be talking about a team that is in fact tied for that 5th spot. Still, it’s good to see them getting the job done. More importantly, Colombia’s win against Paraguay and Ecuador’s shellacking of Chile have opened up some daylight between the top 5 and the rest of the field; Uruguay now has a 7 point lead over Paraguay and 8 points over the self-proclaimed best team in the world. So even if a top 4 finish is in no way assured, the team is close to guaranteeing themselves at least another playoff appearance, and hell, that’s plenty good enough for El Bolso.

 

One last thing: can we talk about Uruguay’s dominance at home for a second? The team has now played 5 games in Montevideo, and they’ve won all five. They have scored 14 goals and conceded none. NONE! No goals. They’ve won 4 of those games by 3 or more goals, the only exception being a 1-0 defeat of Peru. That is outstanding! The Centenario dominance is a big reason why Uruguay has the tournament’s second best offense (19 goals, 1 less than Brazil), as well as the stingiest defense (they’ve only conceded 5 scores). This isn’t just for show, either; the +14 goal differential could come into play down the road, as it did in 2002. Back then, Uruguay came into their last game leading Colombia by 2 points for the playoff spot, and after a 1-1 tie against Argentina and a 5-0 win by the Cafeteros in Paraguay (which to this day I assume was due to some heavy cartel bribery of Paraguayan players) they squeezed into the playoff by a single goal. It pays to pile it on whenever you can, and Uruguay ius doing just that.

 

That’s all for now, fans. I’ll be back next week to talk about Uruguay’s Colombian adventure. Talk to you then!

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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