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Hello fans! El Bolso was on vacation last week, but I’m back to tell you all about Uruguayans and futbol. Let’s get to it!


Coulda Woulda Shoulda…

Alonso's strike was tremendous, but his happiness was short-lived. (Ovacion Digital)
Alonso’s strike was tremendous, but his happiness was short-lived. (Ovacion Digital)


Man, did Nacional ever let a big opportunity slip away this weekend! The Tricolores faced their traditional rivals Peñarol in the Uruguayan Clásico, one of the world’s most intense rivalries (although apparently not as intense as others, as we’ll see later on!). Saturday’s results meant the Aurinegros (meaning “Yellow and Black” because of the colors of Peñarol’s jersey, not because I suddenly turned racist) were tied at the top of the Clausura table with Danubio and River Plate, while Nacional was lurking just 4 points back. A Tricolor win would leave them just a point short of first place with 3 games to go. As a reminder, if Nacional wins the Clausura they automatically win the Uruguayan Championship, as they are already winners of both the Apertura and the annual table.


Alas, it was not to be. Despite a rough start in the first 20 minutes or so, when Peñarol had the run of the game and came close to scoring a few times, Nacional improved throughout the match and came close to taking the lead just before halftime. Even without starting keeper Gustavo Munua (injured two weeks ago) and budding superstar Gastón Pereiro, (who spent Sunday flying to New Zealand for the U20 World Cup, because no one at the Uruguayan Association is able to read a calendar correctly), Nacional proved the superior team whenever they chose to use their, as Peñarol’s defenders were barely able to get close enough to Carlos De Pena and Leandro Barcia to hack them down from behind as they flew by. Meanwhile, the Aurinegro’s midfield and forward line is led by Antonio Pacheco and Marcelo Zalayeta, the Flying Hellfish. Get those guys deep into the second half and you better get the oxygen tank and defibrillator ready. It’s no surprise, then, that Nacional kept looking better as the minutes ticked by.


Then, in the 69th minute, a bad giveaway by Sebastián Píriz gave the ball to Iván Alonso inside the penalty box, and what happens then? Goals, that’s what happens. Alonso’s hard cross beat Pablo “I’ll fight you and your whole family right here” Migliore, and all of a sudden Nacional had the lead and a chance to avoid the end of season playoff altogether. Peñarol coach Pablo Bengoechea put in Hernan Novick to add some life to a non-existent offense, and it worked. In the 78th minute (just three minutes after the substitution), Novick scored on a beautiful free kick to give his team a 1-1 tie and the advantage going into the last three weeks of the season. Look, if you watch the replay it’s pretty obvious that there was no foul on the fateful play, but I’m not going to complain; it looked like there was contact at first glance, plus there was a pretty obvious penalty by Carlos Valdés on Zalayeta that went uncalled earlier. You win some, you lose some, and congratulations should go to Novick for a great shot.


As far as the tournament, there’s just three rounds to go and Peñarol controls its own destiny: win out and the league title will be decided by anywhere between 1 and 3 Clásicos (Nacional can become champion by winning the first one as annual table winners, Peñarol would need to win that one and the ensuing two leg final playoff). However, it’s not a done deal yet: both Danubio and River Plate are just a point behind and hope to steal that final date with the Tricolores. We’ll see what happens. As for Nacional, winning the Clausura is now pretty much a fantasy, so they’ll have to use the next three weeks to get themselves ready for the finals.


And Then There Were None

Let's play spot the police officer! Ready? Go! Awwww... we all lost. (Trome)
Let’s play spot the police officer! Ready? Go! Awwww… we all lost. (Trome)


Uruguay’s participation in the Libertadores Cup came to a sad end this week as Wanderers lost a two leg playoff to Racing Club of Argentina. The Bohemios gave it their all, as they have all tournament long, and came up just short after a 1-1 tie at home and a 2-1 loss on the road that made their coach just a tiny bit upset. Even so, wanderers put on a strong campaign against strong opposition and deserve congratulations on a job well done. The real news, however, was on the other side of the bracket: the Argentinian Superclásico garnered all the attention, and deservedly so. But it wasn’t for the reasons you would expect.


There are few rivalries that give Nacional-Peñarol a run for its money as far as pure animosity, but River Plate-Boca Juniors is one of them. There was concern when the two were paired off in the second round bracket, and this week those worries proved justified in the worst way possible. The teams entered last week’s game at the infamous Bombonera, Boca’s home field, with river up 1-0 on a goal by recent Uruguayan National Team addition Carlos Sánchez.


As a quick aside, Bombonera means “box of bonbons” and there are two theories as to why it’s called that: one says that the architect who designed it received a box of candy shaped like the stadium as a gift from the team. that’s the version Boca fans like. Everyone else believes the alternative explanation, that the shape of the stadium resembles a specific type of container used back in the day by the lucky souls whose job it was to follow tramway routes and clean up after the horses that pulled the vehicles. Those containers were known as “bomboneras” because Argentinians are nothing if not clever, and that’s how the stadium got its nickname. It could also explain why Boca fans and players are commonly known as “Bosteros” (“bosta” is a slang term meaning horse or cow dung). Now you know, kids, and knowing is half the battle.


Anyway, the return game was pretty boring, with Boca showing very little on offense and River protecting the aggregate score. Halftime came with Boca fans starting to show a desperation, and that’s when it happened: as the River players were walking through the tunnel onto the field for the second half, an unidentified Boca supporter took advantage of the security force’s lax attitude and made his way to the back of the tunnel. He then cut through the tunnel wall with a blowtorch (great job by gate personnel!), and pumped some sort of tear gas or pepper spray (seriously, who checks fans on the way in, Stevie Wonder?) into the tunnel. Mayhem ensued as the players emerged wildly clutching their faces and showing visible burns. The referee delayed restart by over an hour while he and CONMEBOL authorities tried to figure out what the hell to do (refereeing protip: suspend the game). Eventually the game was suspended (refereeeing protip: next time take less than an hour to make obvious decisions), leaving the outcome of the game in doubt and the players stranded in the middle of the field (there was no way they were going anywhere near the stands at that point).


Eventually (as in, more than two hours after the macing incident) the River players were escorted off the field under a hail of projectiles (stay classy, Boca). the game was declared a scoreless tie a couple of days later, and River won the playoff 1-0 on aggregate. Boca was handed a well-deserved, severe punishm… oh wait, this is CONMEBOL! Boca was fined $200,000 and forced to play 4 home games with no fans, as well as being denied visiting team tickets to 4 away games. Word is they also received a very stern warning. I mean, pardon the language, but WHAT. THE. FUCK. Players were MACED in the middle of a game, and all that happens is they have to save their pepper spray for the fifth home game? Who runs CONMEBOL’s disciplinary committee, the Ferguson City Council? Come on, people. This is madness. At the very least, Boca should have been banned from Next season’s international tournaments, and fined the equivalent of a small Polynesian island’s GDP (that list starts with Niue at $10 million, if you were wondering). Apparently, FIFA shares El Bolso’s disappointment, issuing a strongly worded statement against CONMEBOL’s ruling and hinting that they may take away South America’s World cup intercontinental playoff spot in retaliation. Which of course means that, as usual, Argentina misbehaves and Uruguay gets screwed.


National bias and tortured FIFA logic aside, this is an embarrassment. Argentina’s soccer teams long ago lost control of their fans, and the government is of little help, especially when it’s widely rumored that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s political group has long been cultivating relationships with soccer hooligan groups, which they then use to intimidate and disrupt their opponents. Argentina is not alone in dealing with this problem, however, and I think it’s time CONMEBOL (and FIFA in general) start adopting tougher policies in cases like this. It won’t solve the underlying social problems that cause the violence, but it’s the least those organizations can do to cleanse the sport they claim to oversee.


By the way, if you don’t think a chemical agent attack on defenseless players (during a GOLDURN SOCCER GAME ALREADY!) was bad enough, here’s a bit more condiment for you: the game was played as the Argentinian federation suspended all local tournament action for the upcoming weekend because of a horrific incident in which a lower division player lost his life while going for a loose ball. Since AFA has no authority to postpone international games, the Superclásico was instead designated as a special homage to the deceased, in what soccer authorities no doubt thought would be a classy gesture. So… I guess this macing is for you, Emanuel Ortega! Rest in peace.


Uruguayos Campeones

Can anyone stop El Tridente? We'll see if Juventus and Athletic Bilbao have what it takes. (CNN)
Can anyone stop El Tridente? We’ll see if Juventus and Athletic Bilbao have what it takes. (CNN)


There’s lots to talk about in the European scene, but I’m going to focus on the big picture (apologies to Mauricio PereyraDiego Rolan, and Christian Stuani, who keep scoring big goals; catch you next time, OK guys?)


It was a weekend of titles for the big Uruguayan stars: first, Luis Suárez‘s Barcelona squad survived the threat of a season-ending strike and a tough away crowd to beat Atlético de Madrid 1-0 and secure the 2015 La Liga title. Luis was injured during the week and did not play, but he’s expected to recover in time to help Barcelona try for the mythic treble of League, Cup, and Champions League titles. Remember last season, when Liverpool came oh-so-close to winning the Premier thanks to Suárez’s goals and amazing play? I guess having Lio Messi and Neymar on your team instead of Steven Gerrard helps… Meanwhile, Real Madrid was eliminated from contention (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that this season…) despite a big victory at Espanyol, but worry not Madrid fans! There’s plenty for you to celebrate.


In France, it’s been another huge season for Edinson Cavani. Last week, the Uruguayan striker put PSG within range of a second consecutive league title with a hat trick in a 6-0 win against Guingamp. I guess since Suárez got a hat trick just a couple of weeks ago, Edinson just HAD to have one of his own! This weekend Cavani played all 90 minutes in the team’s title-clinching 2-1 win against Montpelier. The forward has now scored 16 goals in Ligue 1 this season (just 3 less than teammate and all-around douchebag Zlatan Ibrahimovic), and 28 scores in all official competitions (Ibra has 30). Still, rumors persist that Cavani is in his way out of Paris, potentially to Arsenal Man U Real Madrid whoever came up in this week’s spin of the Cavani trade rumor wheel. I think PSG will miss him when he’s gone.


With injured defender Martín Cáceres‘s Juventus’ squad having clinched the Serie A title a few weeks ago, could Uruguayans run the table on Romance-language-speaking major leagues? (sorry , Romania) Yes! Benfica, where Celeste members Maxi Pereira and Jonathan Rodríguez ply their trade, clinched the Portuguese League title this weekend. The Lisbon team have a 3 point advantage on second place Porto with one game to go but own the head to head tiebreaker. This is Benfica’s second straight league title and Maxi’s third with the club, as well as his 10th overall title wearing the red jersey.


So what’s next for Uruguayans abroad? Both Suárez and Cavani have opportunities to win additional titles, Cavani in the French Cup and Suárez in both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. there’s also a Copa América title to defend in Chile, and the U20 National team is off to a World Cup adventure in the land of the Hobbits. It’s going to be a busy summer, and El Bolso will be here to tell you all about it. I’ll leave you with a very special Clásico edition of Pasión tricolor. See you next time!

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.