[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ello fans! Well, it’s been another tough week here at the Charrúa Report, as Nacional continues to disappoint. Let’s get to it…
After the unstoppable march through the Apertura and the Summer friendlies, Nacional has finally hit a rough patch, both locally and internationally. The big disappointment, obviously, was elimination from the Libertadores Cup to Palestino. Forget about the $2MM payout that they missed out on, or the fact that now the Tricolores have a glut of players and not enough minutes for all of them; what really hurts is that, for the first time in 19 years, the Libertadores group stage will go on without them. I mean, for other Uruguayan teams missing one, or two, or even five consecutive tournaments is not a big deal, but Nacional fans are not used to this, and it’s a big blow. This year also breaks a streak of 15 consecutive years in which Nacional has won at least one official international game on the road. After last season’s embarrassing group stage performance, is it time to reevaluate the team’s approach to international competition? Maybe they should listen to Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi and get rid of their black players? (more like A-bigot Sacchi, amirite?) I don’t know what the answer is, but I know one thing: at least they don’t have a racist idiot as coach. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.
On to the games: on Thursday afternoon, Nacional hosted Palestino in an empty Parque Central, needing to win either 1-0 (to force a penalty shootout) or by two goals (to clinch the series). The game started logically, with Nacional pushing for the opening goal and Palestino betting on counterattacks. The tricolores had their chances, but it was Palestino who took the lead 37 minutes in on a great header in traffic. Now needing to score three goals to make up for the away one, Nacional woke up, pushing the Chileans into their own box. It took only 4 minutes for the tying goal to come, courtesy of Palestino defender Germán Lanaro, who surprised his own goalie with a touch off a Nacional cross. Just a couple of minutes later, the Bolsos put themselves in great position when Gastón Pereiro, just back from being Uruguay’s top scorer in the U20 South American Championships, sneaked in behind the defense near midfield, took the ball all the way into the box, and coolly side-stepped the keeper to give Nacional the lead (see it in the match highlights). It looked like all the momentum was with the Tricolores going into the half, but nerves and a solid defensive stand by Palestino kept the score at 2-1, and Nacional was eliminated. Now there’s word that Palestino, having collected on the group stage prize money, will use mostly youth players and reserves to play the cup and save their best efforts for the local competition. Good news for Wanderers, I guess.
“Alright, Everyone Starting on their Left Foot.”
Having been knocked out of continental competition, Nacional turned its sights on the local tournament, which started this weekend. First up was Defensor Sporting: Nacional started the Apertura six months ago with a resounding 5-2 win, but this one went a little differently. Nacional had the clear chances, but could not put the ball in the net and had to settle for a scoreless tie. It’s another poor result, and once again the offense looked like a shadow of its Apertura self, but overall the team performed much better than they did against Palestino, so there’s a silver lining.
There was some controversy in the run-up to the game, as Defensor tried to get even for perceived slights. See, for that Apertura game, Nacional offered only 600 tickets to the visiting fans, covering a section off to the side of one of the main stands. Defensor complained, asking for one of the stands behind the goals instead; Nacional told them they would do that if Defensor agreed to buy out the section ahead of time and take responsibility for unsold tickets. Defensor refused (you’ll understand why in a minute), and vowed retribution. So come this week, they offered Nacional only 600 tickets, behind one of the goals, and so when the game started, the TV cameras showed one completely full section (where Nacional fans were), one mostly empty section (the one behind the other goal) and the main stands across from the TV cameras, which were 100% empty. They didn’t even bother opening them for the game. So in order to get back at Nacional for assuming they have no fans, Defensor played the game in a nearly empty stadium, because THEY HAVE NO FANS (seriously, look at the highlights). Well done, Defensor. This is why no one respects you.
So what’s next for Nacional? They need to find their offensive form and quickly, to avoid falling further behind in the Clausura race. Fortunately both Racing and River Plate lost, so the Tricolores maintain a healthy lead in the annual table (11 points ahead of Racing and 15 over third-place Peñarol), but it sure would be nice to win the Clausura and avoid a final playoff altogether. Taking a longer term view, it’s clear that Nacional’s ability to compete in the international stage has dropped off significantly since they reached the 2009 Libertadores semifinals. They’ve been eliminated in the group stage three times (2011, 12, and 14) and in the first knockout round twice (2010, 13). This year they didn’t even make it that far. Part of that is the economic reality of Uruguayan fútbol, and part of it surely has to do with the revolving door of coaches (6 in 5 years, and that’s not counting interim ones) and players, which keep the team from developing a consistent playing philosophy. I like that they seem to be sticking with Alvaro Gutiérrez as a longer term solution, and that they’re working hard to keep their youth stars for at least a couple of years before selling them abroad, but how long is that going to last? The grumbling about the coaching has already started; what happens if they lose next weekend? And even if Gutiérrez weathers the storm, how long does he stick around once he starts getting feelers from Argentina and Brazil, not to mention Europe or the Middle East? There are no easy answers, other than to say this: Nacional had a bad week. They came into the Libertadores playoff a little unprepared and lacking in any meaningful competition (thanks a lot, Uruguayan Football Association!), suffered a serious setback when Diego Polenta was red-carded, had to play their home game in front of empty stands (something they’re not used to, unlike Defensor’s players), and still were kept out of the group stage by a ball that hit the post. They had a wonderful run through the Apertura, they already have a place in the championship playoff, and they’re well ahead of every other team in the race for a spot in next year’s Libertadores group stage. Let’s cut them a little slack, shall we?
Around the Globe
Before I go, let’s take a brief look at Uruguayans abroad. Bordeaux forward Diego Rolan found the back of the net again after almost a month! Rolan helped his team reach 6th place in the French Ligue by scoring the only goal in a game against Saint Ettienne, taking a pass on the left wing, faking a cross, and slotting the ball next to the keeper’s near post. It’s good to see the Celeste mainstay getting back to what he does best (unless you’re Arrigo Sacchi, I guess); if Bordeaux is going to make a push to slide into a Champion’s League spot, they’re going to need him to step up for the next few months.
And then there’s Luis Suárez. The Barcelona player has finally found the net in consecutive games with his new team. Suárez did not start this weekend’s match against Levante, but came on in the 63rd minute and, 6 minutes after that, did this to close out a 5-0 win for the Blaugranas, who remain just one point away from the league lead. That was the 8th time in their last 14 official matches that Barcelona has scored at least 4 goals, so they seem to be rounding into shape just in time to push for all the trophies. They’ll need Suárez on his game to do that.
UPDATE: Everybody settle down about Arrigo Sacchi, it seems he has a lot of black friends. Sorry we doubted you, Arrigo.
And that’s all for this week, friends. Nacional may have had a rough week, but at least they managed to score some goals, and you know what that means:
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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