Hello fans! It’s time once again for the Charrúa Report! A lot happened in Uruguayan sport this week, so let’s get right to the action!
It’s Lonely at the Top
Well, the big game came and went, and Nacional fans are feeling pretty good right about now. The Tricolores didn’t play their best game, but they made their opportunities count and beat second place Racing 2-0. They are now five points clear of the Cerveceros and eternal rival Peñarol with 6 games to play, having already played (and beaten) almost all of the usual contenders; only the derby remains. The championship is not a done deal, but it’s looking like a pretty good bet.
Like I said, this was not a good game. Racing worked hard to hold on to the ball and keep the opponent from scoring; Nacional responded with long balls to Iván Alonso, which played right into Racing’s strategy. The Tricolores managed just one good chance in all of the first half, but they made it stick: a long ball down the left wing to was controlled by Carlos de Pena, who sent a cross into the heart of the penalty box, where Gastón Pereiro‘s smooth first-touch strike sent it into the net. And that was it until halftime, other than a brief ruckus as the two teams headed into the the tunnel to the locker rooms. It seems that Alonso was unhappy about an earlier play where one of Racing’s defenders was caught on camera firmly and persistently cupping his buttocks (Alonso later claimed he was doing more than that), so he went after the guy as soon as the whistle blew. Stay classy, Racing.
The second half was more of the same, with Nacional having the better chances but not finding the right combination, and knowing that one lucky strike would tie the game. About ten minutes from the end, Alonso earned a foul next to the right wing corner flag; everyone knew what that meant. Alvaro Recoba, who had come into the game a few minutes before, would be trying to put the game away with his magic foot. His low, curving strike did just that according to everyone in the world except the referee’s assistant, who didn’t notice that the Racing keeper stopped the ball about a foot inside the line. I’m not going to belabor the point; see for yourself what a horrible call this was. This could have been a turning point in the game, but not a minute later (Recoba was still on the sideline yelling at the assistant) Carlos De Pena ended Racing’s hopes with a monster shot from about 30 yards out. This was Nacional’s 11th win in 12 official matches with Alvaro Gutiérrez as coach (three of those happened at the end of last season), and it sets the team up for a first place finish in the season’s first half.
Fuerza la Celeste!
There was a lot of activity for the various national teams this week; the main attraction was La Celeste’s trip to the Middle East and the return of Luis Suárez. Oscar Tabárez’s team did not show its best soccer, but it still managed decent results and blended in some young blood to go with the established stars. On Friday, the opponent was Saudi Arabia, and the game ended in a disappointing 1-1 tie with the Saudis drawing even in added time. Earlier, Uruguay had taken the lead when El Pistolero (The Gunman) smashed a volley off the far post, off a streaking Saudi defender, and into the goal. Suárez did not get credit for the goal (the ball was bouncing away from the goal when it hit the Saudi), but he did show that his instincts are as sharp as ever. He took it to the next level yesterday, when Uruguay faced Oman to close out the trip. His two second half goals powered a 3-0 Uruguay win (the last score coming from first-time call-up Jonathan Rodríguez. Overall Uruguay looked a little rusty and lacking in teamwork, but there’s still time for them to improve before next year’s Copa América.
Meanwhile, the U20 team had mixed success in Colombia, where they participated in a friendly four-team tournament. The Lil’ Celestes (I should really trademark that) started off by beating Mexico 2-1, but they subsequently lost to Chile (3-0) and Colombia (2-0) and finished in third place. The reigning U20 World Cup runners up will have to improve significantly to make it back to the big dance next year. The U17 team, now coached by 1988 Intercontinental Cup hero Santiago “el Vasco” Ostolaza, is having no such issues right now. They were also invited to an international tournament (in Limoges, France) but managed to do a little better than their older counterparts. The Littlest Celestes (seriously, I could be selling t-shirts and stuff) started by tying Ukraine 2-2, beat their French hosts 3-1, and tied Canada 1-1 in their last game. The 5 points were enough to bring the trophy back to Montevideo, along with the top scorer and MVP awards, both won by Marcelo Sarachi (fun fact: googling his name returns a bunch of Sriracha links). It looks like Uruguay is poised to continue its recent run of strong youth national team performances.
To finish today’s post, let’s look at some other interesting happenings related to Uruguayan sport, rapid-fire-style:
- Congratulations to the Uruguayan Rugby (pronounced roogbee) National Team: Los Teros beat Russia 36-27 to snag the last spot in the 2015 Rugby World Cup (hey, it’s not just the soccer team that does that!). The Uruguayans had lost a win-and-you’re-in home and away series against the US several months ago, but regrouped to smack Hong Kong around in a single game playoff, then lost the first leg of this final chance in Russia by one point to set up the home turf heroics. Despite a significant size and fitness level disadvantage (the Russians all looked like WWE wrestlers, while the Uruguayans reminded me of my old dive-bar-sponsored rec soccer teams), Uruguay shook off a weak first half performance and asserted themselves over the final 45 minutes to punch their ticket to England. They’re in a group with Australia, England, Wales and Fiji, so they’re going to get absolutely murdered, but at least they get a free trip to Europe out of it. Congratulations! Thanks to rugbyworldcup.com’s generous game streaming policies, El Bolso was able to watch this one live, and if you think I somehow refrained from making a thousand Rocky IV jokes, then you don’t know me very well. THE RUSSIAN IS CUT!!!
- In other non-soccer news, tennis sensation Pablo Cuevas made history this week by reaching #33 in the ATP rankings, the third highest ranking ever achieved by a Uruguayan player. Pablo has been on fire since returning from a two year absence due to knee problems, winning two ATP tournaments earlier this season. I’ve been bugging Jobu to write a GTKAU article on Pablo for years, ever since he teamed up with Peruvian Luis Horna to win the 2008 French Open doubles title, but Jobu is holding firm to his demand for a top 20 appearance. Come on Jobu! This was also a big week for Cuevas’s personal life, as he welcomed first child, Alfonsina. Fuerza Pablito!
- It’s not all good news this week, folks. Uruguayan player Mauro Guevgeozián, who has taken advantage of his Armenian heritage to become a fixture in that country’s national team, recorded his first career hat trick while playing for Peruvian side Alianza Lima. How is that bad news, you say? Only one of the three goals was against Alianza’s opponent. Oof. Mauro has clearly perfected his header technique, and can become a great asset for Alianza as long as they keep him away from their own penalty area.
- This one is a little strange: did you know that 5 of the 18 Colombian first division teams, plus traditional powers América de Cali (currently in the second division) feature Uruguayan starting goalies? They do (sorry… Spanish language article). Included in that list are three former Nacional keepers — Sebastián Viera, who also spent some time on the national team, Alexis Viera (no relation), and Leonardo Burián – as well as 2010 World Cup reserve Juan Castillo. Who knew?
And that’s all for this week, people. Here’s your weekly Pasion Tricolor fix; sadly it does not include reactions to Recoba’s stolen goal or the assault on Alonso’s nether regions. See you next week!
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- The Charrúa Report: King of the Single Rounders - December 12, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: Senseless - December 6, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: The Bum’s Rush - November 28, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: A Bump in the Road - November 16, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: Is It Priceline Time? - November 12, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: Closer to Fine - October 13, 2016