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Hello fans! It’s El Bolso once again with another Charrúa Report. There were no games in Europe or the Libertadores Cup because of the international FIFA date, but there’s still plenty to talk about. Let’s get to it!

 

Nacional Wakes Up

 

Carlos DePena postgame, basking in the glory of his hat trick. (Twitter: @nacional)
Carlos DePena postgame, basking in the glory of his hat trick. (Twitter: @nacional)

Hell yeah! It took half a game, but Nacional finally shook off two months of frustration and beat the ever-loving tar out of Atenas 5-3. This game was actually a plodding, boring scoreless tie at the half, but after halftime both teams decided to hulk up and really put on a show. Diego Arismendi opened the scoring five minutes in, and  Carlos De Pena added a second just two minutes later. After Gonzalo Castillo pulled one back for Atenas in the 56th, De Pena scored two more goals, in the 61st and 66th, seemingly securing an easy win. But Atenas, fighting both for the Clausura lead and to avoid relegation (look, it’s complicated) wasn’t done; a Facundo Peraza’s two goals (the second on a penalty kick) made the score 4-3 with 12 minutes left and gave Nacional fans some heartburn. In the end, though, it was not to be. A red card to Carlos Keosseian stopped Atenas’s momentum, and an injury time goal by Landon donovan look-alike Gonzalo Ramos put the finishing touches on a statement win by the Tricolores. Sure, the defense showed weaknesses, but at least the team managed to score some goals. The five they got in the second half of this game were more than the four they’d scored so far in the Clausura (five and a half games’ worth). Hopefully the team can make this a stepping stone towards a full recovery.

 

Let’s take a minute to appreciate the monster performance by De Pena who had 3 huge goals when the team needed them most, and the triumphant return of Ignacio “Nacho” González. Subbing in for Alvaro Recoba (injured) and Gastón Pereiro (on tour with the U20 national team), Nacho was easily the best player on the field, even though he had only played 9 minutes this year, and had not started a game since last September. He left after De Pena’s last goal (probably needed a break after the long layoff), but finally managed to show why he was considered such a prize when Nacional got him a year and a half ago. Pereiro and Recoba will be back next week, but a Nacho resurgence would give Nacional sorely needed options on offense.

 

After 6 weeks of the Clausura, then, Nacional sits in 9th place, but only 6 points away from co-leaders River Plate and Peñarol. More importantly, they widened their advantage at the top of the annual table to 11 points over Racing and the two Clausura leaders. The Tricolores will next take on Wanderers, with the Bohemios a little distracted by the Libertadores Cup and sitting in last place, although this is the same team that lost in last year’s finals, so it still figures to be a tough match. The big match of the weekend will be River Plate against Peñarol in a top of the table clash. If the Manyas and Darseneros tie, it would be a great opportunity for Nacional to get closer to the top.

 

So Close… and Yet so Far

 

Paredes and Ferreira, who scored the two goals that put Paraguay in the World Cup. (ABC Paraguay)
Paredes and Ferreira, who scored the two goals that put Paraguay in the World Cup. (ABC Paraguay)

 

And so, one day, Uruguay’s streak of men’s World Cup participation came to an end. since the U17 team missed the big prize in 2007, the Celestes had a perfect attendance record: 10 tournaments overall (the 2010 and 2014 big boy meets, 5 straight U20 versions, and the last 3 U17 ones as well), but it was bound to end sooner or later, and on Sunday night that’s exactly what happened. Santiago Ostolaza’s team will be watching on TV when the very best in pimple-faced footy get together this Summer in Chile.

 

So how did this happen? Well, after last week’s stumble against the Argentinian ref… er… Ecuador, the team was pretty much in do-or-die mode, and it didn’t do itself any favors by losing to Brazil 3-2 on Monday. this was a see-saw affair: Brazil took the lead in the 14th and 68th minute, only to watch Federico Valverde tie it both times. Third time’s the charm, though, and with just 8 minutes left Brazil took yet another lead, and this time they made it stand. Uruguay played a good enough game, but key defensive mistakes cost them dearly.

 

However, this team is nothing if not resilient, and they showed it once again on Thursday, beating Argentina for the second time in this tournament, again by a 2-1 margin. This time Uruguay started strong and was leading 2-0 at the half thanks to goals by santiago Mederos (21st) and Roberto Fernández (42nd). It looked to be all over when Argentina received a red card in the 50th minute, but the Albicelestes surged forward in the second half and got back within a goal in the 56th. That’s as far as they got, though, and Uruguay earned a key victory that left them one point away from the World Cup. All they had to do was not lose in the final game against Paraguay.

 

The tournament hosts, however, had other ideas. They played a tough game and took the lead in the 32nd minute; once again Valverde was there to give Uruguay hope with a magnificent free kick early in the second half, his seventh goal of the championships (just one less than Brazil’s Leandro for the tournament lead). The Celestes tried to hold on to the tie, but 15 minutes from time Paraguay managed the game winner thanks to the passivity of the Uruguayan backline. The 2-1 final score sends Paraguay to the World Cup and leaves Uruguay fans to wonder what would have happened if either of the two incorrectly disallowed goals in the Ecuador game had been allowed to stand. Uruguay handled Argentina’s players just fine, but they were unable to master the Argentinian refs, and so miss out on the biggest prize of all. Let’s hope that the U20 boys can make up for this with a stellar performance, and that Ostolaza can pick up the pieces and come back even stronger next time around.

 

Marrakesh Express

 

Not only did Edinson Cavani score on Saturday, he also showed off his ambi-turning skills. (Arab Scene)
Not only did Edinson Cavani score on Saturday, he also showed off his ambi-turning skills. (Arab Scene)

Meanwhile, the main Celeste squad played on Saturday, a friendly in Morocco against the home team. National team coach Oscar Tabárez continues to mix some new talent in with the established players, but for the most part this was the base of the team that will be expected to compete in this Summer’s Copa América: keeper Fernando Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Diego Godín and José María Giménez in defense (Martín Cáceres is recovering from injury and was unavailable), the ageless Egidio Arévalo Ríos and Nicolás Lodeiro in the midfield (Gaston Ramírez was hurt earlier in the week so he went home early), and of course, Edinson Cavani as the featured forward. The search for Luis Suárez’s replacement continues, and this time it was Diego Rolan getting the start, with Christian Stuani coming in later. As far as the new blood, that included starters Carlos Sánchez and Jonathan Rodríguez, as well as subs Guzmán Pereira and Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Rounding out the squad were World Cup veterans Alvaro Pereira (starting for Cáceres) and Alvaro González (who subbed in with 20 minutes left).

 

This game was meant to gauge the team’s level and focus the work to be done before June. As the Uruguayan play-by-play guy I was listening to said after the game, this was certainly a great learning opportunity: we learned that Uruguay should schedule two games per FIFA week, not just one, because these guys are nowhere near ready. The game was pretty boring. There were a few chances for either side, including a clear penalty against Cavani that wasn’t called and a stunning back-heel the hit Muslera’s post right before halftime, but defenses ruled the first half. Five minutes into the second 45, a deep pass found Rolan streaking into the box, and he was taken down from behind before he could beat the keeper. This time the ref called a penalty (although it looks to me like the foul could have been called outside the area), and Cavani turned it into a 1-0 lead for Uruguay. It was Cavani’s 25th goal wearing the Celeste, which left him all alone in seventh place on the all time table, one goal behind Sebastián “El Loco” Abreu. After that Uruguay closed ranks and played to maintain the one goal lead (in a friendly against Morocco? Really?), which they managed to do thanks to two amazing saves by Muslera and the mediocre quality of the opposition. I mean, it’s a win, which helps team morale and keeps the FIFA ranking high (remember that FIFa uses it to determine World Cup seeding), but I was expecting more. Hopefully this is just a beginning and Tabárez’s squad will find their better form before heading to Chile this Summer.

 

No ridiculously racist comments were made by big time Italian coaches this week, so I guess that’s all for today, friends. See you n… wait… what in the hell is that noise? Could it be? GOOD GAWD THAT’S PASION TRICOLOR’S MUSIC!!!

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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