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Hello fans! It’s time once again for the Charrúa Report! Today we once again focus primarily on the local league and a bittersweet week for El Bolso’s favorite team, Nacional. On the international front, preparations are beginning for next year’s international calendar at all levels of the UMNT organization, and I’m here to let you know about it. Let’s get to it!

Aguante Guille!

 

Guillermo de los Santos
Guillermo de los Santos in happier days: signing his contract with Nacional in June of 2013. (Nacional Official Site)

 

Well folks, Nacional is finally atop the league table once again and the Tricolores keep gaining on their closest pursuers. How did it happen? On Saturday, third place Peñarol faced defending champions Danubio, who are having an awful year so far. Despite clearly being the better team, the Manyas fell behind in the first five minutes pulled even late in the second half, and had to settle for yet another tie. Peñarol is now on a 20 game official match unbeaten streak dating to last year and are the only team with no losses left in the Apertura, but they lost ground all the same after their fourth tie in the last five local matches. Meanwhile, early on Sunday afternoon, league leader Racing faced up and coming Defensor Sporting (you may remember them from their 5-2 beating at the hands of Nacional in week 1). The Cerveceros entered the game having lost only two points  all season long but they were outclassed and smacked around to the tune of a 6-1 final score, leaving the door open for Nacional to take over as league leaders later on that day. Hey, if you have to lose, lose big, I guess.

This was a rough week for Nacional: Thursday practice was cancelled after news broke that defender Guillermo de los Santos had lost his wife after a lengthy battle with an unnamed illness. De los Santos had been brought over from Cerro at the start of last season, but had been unable to gain a spot in the regular rotation; I guess that makes much more sense after this week’s sad news. Faced with a shell-shocked squad, Nacional tried to postpone the match until this Tuesday to give the players a chance to recover; Rampla Juniors, to their credit, agreed to the request, but TV obligations led the league to deny it. So early on Sunday evening, the Tricolores took the field wearing matching shirts with a 4 on the back (that’s de los Santos’s number) and a message for his wife’s family on the front. The team also brought out a big sign showing support for the grieving player and there was a minute of silence and a long ovation before the start of the game (gestures that were mimicked in league games throughout the weekend). Here’s hoping all of that support helps Guillermo and his loved ones deal with their grief.

 

Back in the Saddle Again

 

Club Nacional de Futbol
Nacional’s players show their support for de los Santos’ family before their match against Rampla Juniors. (Ovacion Digital)

 

The game itself was a difficult proposition for Nacional. Rampla, newly promoted to the top division and fighting to avoid relegation, did their best to close off the attack lanes and even managed to test keeper Gustavo Munúa a couple of times. The “Picapiedras” (that’s how The Flintstones were known in the spanish-speaking world, although in this case the name refers to the team’s proximity to a prison) kept the game tied into the last ten minutes of play thanks to the outstanding play of goalie Bernardo Long and his defense. Three times Long stretched out (no pun intended) to deny Nacional attackers; three more his defenders deflected balls right on the goal line. On many more occasions the Rampla back line simply opted to act out famous WWE finishing moves on Nacional’s top scorer, Iván Alonso, as in the play in the first half when a give-and-go between Alonso and another player was thwarted by a timely Sleeper Hold inside the penalty box (the referee chose to ignore it).

Feeling that his team was letting a huge opportunity go by, coach Alvaro Gutiérrez took out both his full backs in order to add men to the attack, and it paid off with 7 minutes to go. Two point-blank near-misses off a long free kick, one by Diego Arismendi and the other by Gastón Pereiro, resulted in a corner kick taken by Gonzalo Porras. As a Rampla defender applied a Camel Clutch hold to Alonso (again, the referee was looking elsewhere) Pereiro deftly stepped around the battling players and headed the ball down and near the right post for a 1-0 Nacional lead. Then, already in added time, another frontal free kick landed in the box just as a defender was setting Alonso up for an Evenflow Reverse DDT. This time, for some reason, the ref decided to actually call a foul, which allowed Alonso to finally get back on the scoresheet by putting the ensuing penalty kick past Bernardo Long (I guess he wasn’t that long after all). So Nacional is all alone atop the table, two points ahead of Racing and five in front of both Peñarol and Defensor, just in time for a big match-up against Racing next weekend. That could be the tournament right there, although my guess at this point the players are not really thinking about wins and losses all that much.

 

Title Defense Preparations

 

Oscar Tabarez
I wouldn’t be a true Uruguayan if I failed to point out that Uruguay won every game played while El Maestro was technically not the team’s coach. (FIFA Official Site)

 

The international scene was pretty quiet this week as far a Uruguayans is concerned, except for one big piece of news: that’s right, a mere three months after Oscar Tabárez’s contract as national tam coach ran out at the end of the World Cup, El Maestro has a new deal,  just in time to take his squad to the Middle East for friendlies in Saudi Arabia and Oman next week. Arismendi and Luis Suárez survived the final roster cut and will be there; Edinson Cavani will not, as he will get a well-deserved break from international competition. This trip is another step in Uruguay’s preparation for next year’s Copa América, and the big boys are not the only ones racking up frequent flyer miles this week; both the U20 and U17 teams will be travelling as well, to take part in friendly tournaments in Chile and France, respectively. Just like their older counterparts, both those teams are looking to continue their recent success streaks during next year’s South American championships, which qualify teams for the 2015 youth World Cups.

And that’s all for this week, friends. Join me next time to find out if Nacional can make up for Arismendi’s absence to take control of the Uruguayan league. In the meantime, here’s your weekly dose of pasión tricolor:

 

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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