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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ello fans! It’s El Bolso once again with another Charrúa Report. Here’s this week’s update:

 

Around the World

 

Sergio Ramos and Pepe can only watch as El Pistolero shows them how you win a Clásico. (Todo Futbol)
Sergio Ramos and Pepe can only watch as El Pistolero shows them how you win a Clásico. (Todo Futbol)

Yes, folks, we’re leading off with Uruguayans abroad this week, and it’s all because of  Luis Suárez. The Celeste striker did not score (two games in a row!) in the midweek home game against Manchester City, although Barcelona managed to pull through 3-1 on aggregate after a 1-0 win. No, Suárez saved his heroics for the weekend Clásico. The score was tied at 1-1 going at the start of the second half, but Real Madrid was controlling the run of play and seemed destined to win on the road and take back first place in La Liga. Real’s defense was doing a great job of erasing Lionel Messi, and Neymar was trying to break the record for most gimme goals missed in a single game. Things looked a little bleak for the Blaugrana, but as coach Luis Enrique said after the game, this is why they spent 80 million Euros to bring in Suárez. In the 55th minute, The Gunslinger ran behind the defense to a perfectly placed long ball from Dani Alves, nestled it on the top of his right foot, and unleashed a low shot across his body to the far post for the deciding score. I mean… just look at that video a few dozen times: the perfectly timed run in between Pepe and Sergio Ramos (bonus points for making two of my least favorite players look foolish!); the delicate first touch to gain control of the ball; the quick strike on goal, knowing keeper Iker Casillas had to be moving in the opposite direction to keep Suárez from running right past him on the outside. That’s why Barcelona spent so much money to bring in a player that couldn’t even get on the pitch for the first month of the season.

 

Also, if I were Karim Benzema, and I gifted Cristiano Ronaldo the tying goal with a magnificent backheel pass, and the guy turned around and ran off without as much as a finger pointed in my direction, there’d be fighting in the locker room afterwards. I’m just sayin’.

 

Barcelona will now try to make their 4 point La Liga lead hold up while trying to bring home the Champions League trophy AND the Copa del Rey. There’s a lot of road to travel (anything can happen over 10 games), but they took a huge step forward on Sunday.

 

Next up for Suárez is a Champions League quarterfinal matchup against PSG and fellow La Celeste forward Edinson Cavani. Oh no! Who will Uruguayans root for? Just kidding; we’ll all be supporting Suárez. No one in Uruguay seems to like Cavani much, despite the fact that, at only 28 years of age, he is already the 8th most prolific scorer in Uruguay National Team history. Hey, at least PSG finally got over the hump and passed Olympique Lyon for first place in Ligue 1!

 

Diego Rolan scored yet again in France’s top division, although his 10th league goal was not enough as Bordeaux fell to Tolouse 2-1. The loss left Bordeaux 9 points away from a Champions League berth with only 8 games remaining.

 

Chelsea won 3-2 in an unexpectedly hard-fought game against Hull City. The league leaders were up 2-0 after only 10 minutes but gave up two quick ones around the half hour mark, the second one scored by Abel Hernández off a Gastón Ramírez assist. Chelsea managed the game winner with 13 minutes left, leaving Hull only 3 points clear of relegation.

 

Back in Spain, Real Sociedad maintained their slim Europa League hopes alive with a 3-1 win over Córdoba. Former Nacional winger Gonzalo Castro broke a 1-1 tie with 15 minutes left to give his team the win. The basque squad are 13 points behind Villarreal so it’s unlikely that they’ll qualify for international action, but at least they’ve pulled themselves away from the relegation battle.

 

Hopin’ and Wishin’

 

It took a while, but Uruguay eventually wore Colombia's defense down. (YouTube)
It took a while, but Uruguay eventually wore Colombia’s defense down. (YouTube)

The final round of the U17 South American Championships kicked off this past week, and Uruguay took a big step backwards by losing 1-0 to Ecuador. Of course, things might have turned out differently if the Argentinian referee hadn’t disallowed two Uruguayan goals on non-existent offside: on the first one the ball is headed backwards by a defender, and on the second one the Uruguayan attacker is clearly behind the last Ecuadorian when the shot on goal is taken. I guess our Rioplatense brothers are still butt hurt over the last Copa America. In any case, the loss was a bug blow to Uruguay’s hopes, but the Lil’ Celestes got themselves sorted out and beat Colombia 1-0 in their second game. That was a game they had to have after being robbed blind against Ecuador, and the Celestes went out and got it.

 

Still, securing a World Cup berth won’t be easy. Argentina leads the group with 6 points and will probably get one of the 4 spots. After that there are 4 teams with 3 points (Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador and Uruguay) with Colombia last with 0 points. The Celestes are still in control of their destiny, but they have the toughest three opponents left: Argentina, Brazil, and hosts Paraguay. We’ll see if they manage to overcome the shenanigans and get themselves a flight to Chile for the World Cup.

 

I roam around, around, around

 

Celebration as Wanderers takes an early lead at Palestino's home field. (T13 Colombia)
Celebration as Wanderers takes an early lead at Palestino’s home field. (T13 Colombia)

In Wanderers took another big step towards the Libertadores knockout stages this week. The Bohemios traveled to Santiago de Chile for the return match against Palestino and came away with a huge 1-1 tie. Wanderers actually led in this one, thanks to a 36th minute goal by Alexis Silva; it’s worth taking a look at the highlights, as the Uruguayan defender somehow managed to put it past the goalie from just inside the end line. Palestino managed to tie it in the 66th minute, but were unable to take the lead, in part thanks to longtime Nacional backup keeper Leonardo Burián. Burián made several key saves to keep this game tied at 1, which leaves the Bohemios in great shape entering the last two rounds. They hold second place in Group 5, 3 points clear of Palestino, and now must face leader Boca Juniors at home and Zamora FC on the road. It’s too early to tell, but it looks as if two ties may put them in the next phase.

 

Danubio keeps stumbling in Group 2, earning another 2-1 home loss, this time to Corinthians. As with San Lorenzo, late goals were the problem, with the Brazilians scoring in the 70th and 80th minutes before an injury time strike from Gonzalo Barreto made the final result look presentable. It could have been worse, as a Corinthians player skied a penalty kick over the crossbar with the game still scoreless. La Franja (“The Stripe,” so called because… um… their jersey has a black diagonal stripe on it) has no points after 3 matches and sits in last place in the group, 6 points behind second place Sao Paulo, so don’t anyone make plans to watch them in the next phase. They’re done.

 

Livin’ on a Prayer

 

"Who you tryin' to get crazy with ese? Don't you know I'm loco?" (Bendito Futbol)
“Who you tryin’ to get crazy with ese? Don’t you know I’m loco?” (Bendito Futbol)

Danubio still managed to make progress this week, beating Nacional 2-1 to grab a share of the Clausura tournament lead. The Tricolores were down two goals after 20 minutes and never recovered, despite getting one back just four minutes into the second half thanks to Gastón Pereiro‘s hustle. Nacional once again seemed outmatched, and are now in 14th place (out of 16 teams) in the Clausura. Their Apertura title earned them a spot in the end of year playoffs, so you can still say they’re halfway there (ah?), but their lead in the annual table is down to 8 points over Racing and 11 points on Peñarol and River Plate (no, not that one). At least Peñarol’s loss over the weekend means the Tricolores are only 6 points away from the Clausura lead pack, but the way they’re playing it may as well be 15.

 

The good news? Well, when the schedule came out back in August, many thought Nacional would get off to a slow start in the Apertura because they were playing all of the traditional top teams (Defensor, River Plate, Danubio) early; they proved that prediction wrong by sweeping through the league then, and even though it seems to have caught up with them now, it still means they’re mostly playing typically lesser teams from now on (the derby being the exception). Still, they need to get their act together soon, because this team is showing weaknesses in defense and a troubling lack of finishing up front. Hopefully they’ll have Iván Alonso (still bothered by injuries) back next week and manage to put a few in the net.

 

If the Uruguayan online media is to be believed (they’re not, but let’s pretend), Nacional also dodged a pretty big bullet this week, as it was rumored that both Alonso and Diego Arismendi would leave to join Brazilian top division side Sport Recife. It’s rare that players would leave this late into a season (although the Brazilian season has not yet begun so the transfer window is still  open there), so it was probably a case of an editor needing to fill daily drama quotas, but still. Both players will be around through the end of June. The other juicy rumor is that Sebastián “El Loco” Abreu, who finally found a taker for his services this week (Ecuador’s Aucas, his 20th career team) could be around come playoff time, since his loan to the Ecuadorians ends before the deciding phase begins. That’s good news, since Alonso’s deal with Nacional also ends before the finals (how does no one check on these things?).

 

Finally, this week brought yet more proof that all Italian soccer managers are awful bigots, as current national side coach Antonio Conte decided that particular fire had been put out way too soon. In an interview with Chi magazine (I couldn’t find an English translation, but the original Italian is here), Conte denied Sacchi’s original comments were racist (you know, that whole “there’s too many blacks” thing he said) and lamented that as recently as 2006 Marcello Lippi, who coached the World Cup Champions that year, had the luxury of choosing his roster from among 64% Italians, whereas right now Conte only has about 33-34%. I’m guessing he meant that the proportion of Italian citizens in Serie A has been decreasing, as opposed to claiming that only a third of the players eligible for the Italian national team are true Italians (hint: 100% of them are). Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, he’s still saying that the best way to maintain a strong national team is to keep foreigners out of the national league, which of course worked so well for recent World Cup champions like France, Spain, Germany… The irony in all this is that Conte himself has recently taken heat from other, even more racist coaches for daring to call naturalized citizens to the national team, although he did receive strong backing from Italian federation president Carlo Tavecchio. Tavecchio, you may remember, received a 6 month ban from holding FIFA office last year for using a fictitious, banana-eating African footballer as a straw man while campaigning for his current post. Is anyone connected to Italian soccer not horribly racist? Anyone?

 

Anyway, that’s all for now, friends. See you next week!

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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