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Hello fans, it’s El Bolso here with another Charrúa Report. Nacional is still leading the Apertura after last weekend’s resounding 4-0 win against Defensor, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I’ve got World Cup fever, baby! That’s right, the World Cup qualifiers started yesterday, and Uruguay is already making history. Let’s get to it!

 

Missing You

 

Bolivian soccer team, Bolivia
Bolivian national team players prior to the game… I’m not sure this is what coach Baldivieso meant when he said “practice your shots.” (TyC Sports)

 

After using the exact same schedule for the last three qualification tournaments, CONMEBOL finally changed things up this time around, shuffling the games around so Uruguay didn’t start by playing Bolivia at home. Their first game on the road to Russia 2018 would be… against Bolivia on the road. The altitude of La Paz has not been kind to La Celeste, which had never won a World Cup qualifier there (they did manage several ties though). Still, if there’s an ideal time to play Bolivia in their mile-high fortress of no oxygen, it’s right now, because holy crap is that team a mess. The federation president is in jail, the coach just took over the job a couple of months ago, several players are missing due to injury or disagreements with federation staff… you name it, Bolivia is dealing with it.

 

Of course, Uruguay has some problems of its own. Luis Suárez is still (still!!?) serving his World Cup 2014 suspension, and Edinson Cavani is suspended because… em… he didn’t object strenuously enough when Gonzalo Jara molested him during this summer’s Copa America. Coach Óscar Tabárez was also missing from this game because of a suspension, as was fullback Jorge Fucile (although with Martín Cáceres back, that one hurts a lot less). If that wasn’t enough two Tabárez stalwarts, Maxi Pereira and Egidio Arévalo Ríos, lost their starting 11 spots in the runup to the game. Arévalo was held back because of some sort of medication he was taking to recover from an injury (I didn’t know HGH was considered medication now… I keed! I keed!), while Maxi apparently doesn’t handle the altitude as well as the other players. Neither player was even on the bench for this one. Given all that, I went into this game thinking another tie would be a great result for the Celestes.

 

Can You Take Me Hiiiiiigh Enough

 

Can you believe they call the guy on the left "The Bald One"? (TyC Sports)
Can you believe they call the guy on the left “The Bald One”? (TyC Sports)

 

The game started out pretty well for Uruguay. Two minutes in, Cavani replacement Abel Hernández had a great shot on goal and only a full-on stretch by Bolivian keeper Daniel Vaca (yes, his last name is Cow) kept the ball out of the net. Abel would have his revenge of sorts, though: in the 10th minute, he headed a ball off a great cross by Carlos Sánchez, and once again Vaca needed every inch of wingspan to keep the ball out; this time, however, it bounced right to Cáceres (where oh where was the defense?), and El Pelado (“The Bald One”) calmly slotted home the opening goal. Bolivia had a couple of chances to level the score before halftime, mostly because Uruguay pulled back after the goal, but showed very little in the way of aptitude or even desire. Sánchez almost made it 2-0 with a stunning free kick, but again the keeper got in the way. Uruguay ran out of gas (or rather oxygen) about 25 minutes in, but Bolivia never threatened to make this a game, so the Celestes were still up 1-0 at the half.

 

For the second half, with Uruguay reeling from the altitude and barely able to muster runs, Bolivia… pretty much sat back and let the Celestes take control of the game, resulting in a slow slog played almost exclusively in the middle of the field. There were some flashes of danger whenever the Bolivians chose to send deep balls across the field, because the Uruguayans literally could not move any faster than a swift trot, but Muslera was always there to defuse the situation. In the 70th minute, however, a rare incursion down the left side of the Bolivian defense led to a free kick just outside the side of the box. Sánchez once again took the free kick and sent a perfect ball towards the far post, where captain Diego Godín was waiting to head it into the corner while the entire Bolivian defense waited patiently for their autographs. If there was any doubt about the outcome of the game, it was erased just 2 minutes later when Bolivian defender Jair Torrico went cleats up on José Giménez and earned his second yellow of the match. For the first time in World Cup Qualifier history, Uruguay leaves La Paz with 3 points. This is also the 10th consecutive time that Uruguay has won their first game in qualifiers, which is a record, and the third straight qualifying tournament in which Uruguay scores the first goal of the competition. Here’s the game summary.

 

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

 

"Oh mah gawd, that's Diego Godín's music!!!" (Fifa.com)
“Oh mah gawd, that’s Diego Godín’s music!!!” (Fifa.com)

 

Make no mistake about it, this is a big win, and it gets the Charrúas off on the right foot, but let’s not get carried away. This Bolivia team was simply awful and can’t be considered a true test; we’ll see what happens when Colombia visits Montevideo on Tuesday. If the opening round is any indication, it’s going to be a very competitive tournament: Chile beat Brazil at home, and Paraguay and Ecuador also earned road wins (the latter against Argentina!). It’s going to be a long two years, friends. For now, though, the Celestes did what they had to do, and that’s good enough for me. The Tabárez era is still going strong 8 years later.

 

Watch the goals below:

 

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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