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Hello fans! The CONMEBOL 2018 World Cup qualifiers are back, and so is El Bolso! I was at a family wedding over the weekend so I was not able to talk about Uruguay’s game against Argentina, so we’ll have to play a double-header today. Are you ready? Let’s get to it!

 

Time to Step Up

 

It's marbles time, fans. (Lasertime Podcast)
It’s marbles time, fans. (Lasertime Podcast)

 

As of my last WCQ update back in March, Uruguay was in first place in the qualifying tournament, which, shall we say, is not something we’re used to as Celeste fans. Still, only 2 points separated the top 5 teams in the standings and 7 teams were within 4 points of the top spot. A couple of bad days and the Charrúas could be right back in their familiar spot, looking up at a bunch of teams and trying desperately to hang on to that magical 5th place position that qualifies a team for the Intercontinental playoffs. There was also the small matter of the team’s lackluster performance in the Copa América Centenario, which signaled a potential return to the perennial underachieving that we know and hate. This weekend’s games were crucial.

 

The schedule did Uruguay no favors: the team would have to travel to Argentina to face a home squad desperate for a good result to get them back on track. Then, they would come home to host Paraguay, always a tough out for the Celestes. How big were these games? Well, earlier in the week Uruguay (and specifically, star forwards Luis Suárez, THE BEST GOD DAMN PLAYER IN THE WHOLE WORLD, and Edinson Cavani, who is also not too bad) received unexpected support in the form of a fan video from Jhon Jairo “Popeye” Velásquez Vásquez. JJVV is a huge soccer fan who moonlighted as Pablo Escobar’s personal hitman. Ok then! Popeye wanted the boys to know that he appreciated their courage and physicality and was 100% behind them.

 

Effing Messi

 

I haven't seen so many people hopelessly chasing after a fake blonde since Kill Bill Part 2 (Hyoooooo!). (La Pelota No Dobla)
I haven’t seen so many people hopelessly chasing after a fake blonde since Kill Bill Part 2 (Hyoooooo!). (La Pelota No Dobla)

 

The Celestes started things off by visiting Argentina on Friday. There was a lot of speculation about all-world superstar Lionel Messi‘s status (and hair color) prior to this game: Messi quit the Argentinian national team after the latest tournament final choke job, at this summer’s Copa América Centenario; he quickly changed his mind, but not before making the team’s new coach Edgardo Bauza get on his knees and beg. Great guy, that Messi! He also did this, because soccer players take lots of shots to the brain area. Ultimately, Messi showed up for the game, while Gonzalo “Pipita” Higuaín stayed home. It was all good news for Bauza. (ZING!)

 

Messi showed up in more ways than one, scoring the only goal in the Albicelestes’ pivotal 1-0 win. Oops! Looks like I mixed up my links! Here are the real highlights. Anyway, the win vaulted Argentina to the top of the standings, one point above second place Uruguay. The Celestes had a horrible game, showing none of the resolve or ability from earlier in the qualifying tournament. You can’t beat Argentina at home when you are unable to string 3 passes together, fans. Well, unless it’s an elimination game, I guess. (BURN!!!). Argentina won a well-deserved game, sending calculator sales in Uruguay through the roof (we always knew this was going far too well). The Charrúas crossed the Río de la Plata feeling like the next game, at home against Paraguay, was almost a must win, as another bad result would likely knock them out of the qualification spots.

 

Steamroller Time

 

Did you see me score? I scored! I really did! Did you see it? (Scoop Nest)
Did you see me score? I scored! I really did! Did you see it? (Scoop Nest)

 

Say what you will about these Tabárez boys, they usually step up when it counts. The old man had them ready to go earlier tonight, and they flat out ran over a very poor Paraguayan squad. The start of the game was in doubt for a while because of the weather, as heavy rain and high winds were forecast for Montevideo. The only storm front moving through the Centenario last night, however, was hurricane Celeste. The Charrúas dominated the entire game, only letting the foot of the gas (and then only slightly) once the game was out of reach. Uruguay opened the scoring 18 minutes in: TBGDPITWW received  a pass on the right wing, bulldozed through his defender, and sent a cross into the box. Cavani ran in ahead of his marker and tapped the ball across the goal and in near the far post (just great finishing from Edinson on this one) and the party was underway.

 

The chances kept coming, and Uruguay added two more goals near halftime: the first one was off a Gastón Ramírez corner, as Cristian “the Onion” Rodríguez jumped in front of his defender and headed it past the keeper. The second was all Suárez: he dribbled the ball into the box, eluded 2 defenders, and was brought down as he was looking to put the ball on goal. The referee called the PK, and TBGDPITWW himself calmly placed it to the left of the Paraguayan goalkeeper. The score was 3-0 at the half, and this game was pretty much over. Uruguay added a 4th goal early on in the second half, as Cavani headed in a nice cross from TBGDPITWW to cap the scoring. After that the Celestes understandably eased up a bit, although they were a lot closer to a 5th goal than Paraguay was to its first. All in all it was a great performance by Uruguay, as inspired and dominant as their earlier game had been disappointing.

 

Still in First Place

 

I yams what I yams and that's all that I yams. (Bleacherreport)
I yams what I yams and that’s all that I yams. (Bleacherreport)

 

Here’s what the standings looked like coming into the weekend:

  1. Uruguay — 13 pts
  2. Ecuador — 13 pts
  3. Argentina — 12 pts
  4. Chile — 10 pts
  5. Colombia — 10 pts
  6. Paraguay — 9 pts
  7. Brazil — 9 pts

 

Here is what they looked like on Saturday morning:

  1. Argentina — 14 pts
  2. Uruguay — 13 pts
  3. Colombia — 13 pts
  4. Ecuador — 13 pts
  5. Brazil — 12 pts
  6. Paraguay — 12 pts
  7. Chile — 10 pts

 

Lastly, here’s where we are now:

  1. Uruguay — 16 pts
  2. Brazil — 15 pts
  3. Argentina — 15 pts
  4. Colombia — 13 pts
  5. Ecuador — 13 pts
  6. Paraguay — 12 pts
  7. Chile — 11 pts

 

It looked dicey for a minute, didn’t it? In the end, though, Uruguay is back on top, and still has a 4-point cushion on 6th place Paraguay. The top 4 teams qualify directly to the World Cup, and the 5th place squad gets a playoff against… somebody. The winner from the Oceania zone? Sounds about right. More importantly, Uruguay is winning games that they have not been able to lock down in previous qualifiers. They are now 4-0-0 at home, having scored 11 goals and conceded none. None! Let’s look at a slightly different set of numbers. Here are Uruguay’s total points in WCQ since CONMEBOL went to a single group round robin, (total number of games in parenthesis):

 

  • 1998 – 21 (16)
  • 2002 – 27 (18)
  • 2006 – 25 (18)
  • 2010 – 24 (18)
  • 2014 – 25 (16)
  • 2018 – 16 (8)

 

See that? In all but the 1998 tournament, Uruguay qualified for the Intercontinental playoff. Right now they are about 3 wins short of matching their average point total, and they’re not even halfway through their schedule. The Celestes are taking care of business at home and stealing the odd point away, and that’s a recipe for qualification. Let’s hope they can keep this up in October, when they host Venezuela and visit Colombia. As always, I’ll be here to tell you all about it. See you then!

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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