Hello fans! I was all set to do a preview of the 2015 Copa América this week, but then I realized the 2015 U20 World Cup started this past weekend, so we’ll talk about that instead. Let’s get to it!
The 2015 U20 World Cup is being played in New Zealand this time around. As you know from this column, Uruguay qualified by finishing third in the U20 South America Tournament earlier this year. So what are the chances of the Celeste hoisting a trophy? Well, Uruguay is the reigning tournament runner-up, having come up just short two years ago after a heartbreaking loss to France via penalty kicks. Of course, history in this type of tournament is relative, since the squads completely turn over every two years, but the Celestes have been doing pretty well lately. This particular group participated in the 2013 U17 Cup, losing to eventual champion Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
As far as the squad, you should be familiar with a few of these guys: Gastón Pereiro has been starting for Nacional for over a year now, leading to frequent appearances in the Charrúa Report; the only other Nacional player on the squad is 17 year old Rodrigo Amaral, who was one of the best players of the South American tournament and has a bright future ahead. There are a couple of players from La Liga’s Villarreal (Franco Acosta and Ramiro Guerra), one from Russia’s Rubin Kazan (Guillermo Cotugno) and even a Premier League player (Diego Poyet, son of former Sunderland coach Gus), but mostly these are players just starting to make their mark in the local Uruguayan League. The big absence is Atlético Madrid’s starting defenseman José Giménez, who is the right age, but is busy training with the Big Celestes for the Copa América.
Uruguay was drawn into Group D along with Serbia, Mexico, and Mali. Serbia was the U19 European Champion in 2013, although just a couple of those players are a part of the current squad because of age restrictions. Still, this points to a strong development system and a tough opponent. Mexico is Mexico, and always seems to do well in these tournaments (which makes the main team’s failures all the more disappointing to their fans). Mali is the unknown of the group, and was expected to finish at the bottom as the other three teams fought for a spot in the playoff rounds.
The group’s first game, however, saw the Africans pull together a surprising 2-0 win against Mexico, in a game in which el Tri had two players sent off within a minute of each other. This result made it all the more important for Uruguay to get off to a good start, and that they did, beating Serbia 1-0 on (what else?) a Pereiro goal. Uruguay came out like gangbusters and dominated the first 15 minutes of play, almost going in front in the 16th minute on a monster Pereiro header the Serbian keeper barely kept out. Then the Serbians took control and were the better side throughout the rest of the match, but could not get one past the amazing Gastón Guruceaga. The young keeper had the game of his life, stoning not one, not two, but three Serbians in one-on-one showdowns to keep his team’s scoresheet clean. In the 67th minute, a great through ball by Facundo Castro left Pereiro all alone against the goalie, and the forward deftly flicked the ball past the keeper and into the net to give Uruguay the lead. The Serbs tried their best to equalize in the last half hour, but could not solve Guruceaga.
Uruguay now faces a Mexican squad in desperate need of a win (and missing the two red-carded starters). A tie here gives the Celestes four points, which could easily be enough to see them through as a third place team, but a win would give them higher playoff seeding and help them avoid a difficult matchup in the next round. If Uruguay and Mali both win, both teams will clinch playoff spots and meet in the last round to decide the group’s top spot.
Nacional continues to struggle in the run up to the end of season playoff. This weekend’s result was a scoreless tie against Juventud, a boring game where Nacional had most of the scoring chances, especially when Cristian Tabó made runs up the left side of the field and kicked the ball back towards the box, but the finishing just wasn’t there. Easily the most interesting thing about this game was the fact that the two starting keepers were Gustavo Munua and Fabián Carini, who were teammates in two World Cups: the 1997 U20 tournament in Malaysia (where starter Munua led the Celestes to their first ever runner-up finish) and the 2002 big boy edition (Carini was the starter this time around as Uruguay missed out on a spot in the knockout rounds by inches). The other big news in the Tricolor camp is the rumor that coach Alvaro Gutiérrez is all set to leave the team at season’s end for a job coaching in Saudi Arabia. Apparently Gutiérrez has already selected his coaching staff for the trip and everything. When asked if he felt remorse about leaving the team that gave him his first chance at coaching for economic reasons, Gutiérrez commented: “I’m not doing this for money… I’m doing it for a shitload of money!”
Peñarol is still the odds-on favorite to face Nacional in the championship final after beating Fénix 2-0 this weekend. The Manyas nearly wrapped up the spot outright, but River Plate scored an injury time goal to beat Racing 1-0 and stay within a point of the leaders. It now comes down to the last round, when both teams will face squads that need to win to secure Copa Sudamericana spots for next fall: Peñarol will play Racing, and River will face off against Danubio. There will also be exitement at the bottom of the table: Rampla Juniors clinched a second division spot by losing to already-relegated Tacuarembó, but the last team to go down a level will be decided in a head to head match. El Tanque will travel to San Carlos to take on Atenas, with the winner playing one more season in the top division. A tie will force the same two teams into a special relegation playoff.
The Cup Runneth Over
The trophies keep raining down on Uruguayan players, people (ouch!). Benfica and Barcelona both won their cup finals to wrap up league-cup doubles, so congratulations to Maxi Pereira, Jonathan Rodriguez, and Luis Suárez on the new hardware! Suárez returned from injury in this game and played his usual solid game, but even El Bolso has to bow down and recognize the power of Lionel Messi. The Argentinian forward was a beast in this one, scoring two of Barcelona’s three goals and leading the team to a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao. His first score was a true soul-crusher, too, as he took on the entire Bilbao defense by himself and showed them how little of a shot they really had in this game. Barcelona will now prepare for the June 6th showdown against Juventus in the Champions League final, with both teams going for the historic league-cup-CL treble.
In France, meanwhile, Edinson Cavani continued his hot streak by scoring the game’s only goal as PSG beat Auxerre for the French Cup title (Ibra-who?). Cavani’s run since coming to the Parisian club two years ago is impressive: two league titles, two League Cups, and one French Cup in two seasons! I think it’s pretty obvious why PSG is hard at work to get rid of the Uruguayan forward, right guys?
And that’s all for now, fans. Next week will be a busy one, with the CL final, the last round of Uruguayan League games, more U20 World Cup action AND the start of the Copa América, so make sure the prescription on your reading glasses is up to date. See you then!
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