Soy Celeste! Soy Celeste!
Uruguay won the battle of the “Guays” against Paraguay.* There are so many reasons why this is good, but none more so than the fact that Uruguay has been brilliant, and Paraguay got to the finals without actually winning a match. They didn’t lose any matches mind you, it was five straight draws, but it is still unappealing. I have stated many times that contrary to popular belief, defense earns draws not titles, but a Paraguay win would have proved me wrong. The irony is that Paraguay is not a particularly defensive side, or at least that was not their intention, but three draws in the group stage and two 0-0 penalty shootouts made Paraguay look duller than dishwater. I wanted to like them, but I could not. Viva la garra!
But today is about Uruguay, and what a sight to behold they were. Attacking from the beginning, they never let up the pressure. Luis Suarez put them up in the 12th minute, and from there is was pretty much lights out. Uruguay should have been ahead by the 2nd minute, save for a curiously uncalled handball. Diego Forlan scored the other two goals (42nd minute and 90th minute), and beauties they were, as one expects from Forlan. It is a shame that he is having such problems with Atletico Madrid, because Forlan is one of South America’s modern greats. Forlan is the most capped player in Uruguayan history and tied for top goalscorer. The Golden Ball he earned at the World Cup was no fluke; he is that good and getting better with age. He himself was overjoyed at winning, saying in an interview that both his father and his grandfather won the Copa America, so he really wanted the win. Bravo to him for maintaining the family tradition.
As much as they will be celebrating in Montevideo tonight, no doubt there is mourning in Buenos Aires. Before tonight, Uruguay and Argentina were tied at 14 Copa America victories apiece, but now Uruguay stands alone with 15. Uruguay is also the only nation other than Argentina to win a Copa America in Argentina. That Uruguay’s last title came in 1995 only adds insult to injury. 1995 was two years after Argentina won its last Copa America, its last senior football tournament full stop (a huge embarrassment for Argentina.) Make no mistake, for as fierce as the Argentina and Brazil rivalry is, the rivalry between Uruguay and Argentina may be even more so. It is certainly older. Argentina and Uruguay were the first two great powers of South American football, and their rivalry helped to shape the modern game. Uruguay, the winner of the first South American Championship in 1916, could be fairly credited with creating the modern game. In 1924, Uruguay complete changed European perceptions of how the game should be played when they won the Olympics. When they returned to the Olympics in 1928 to defend the title, they beat their rivals from across the Rio de la Plata in the final. Uruguay’s Olympic triumphs that led to the creation of the World Cup, which was first held in Uruguay in 1930, and which the home nation won, again beating Argentina in the final. Uruguay won the World Cup a second time in 1950, but since then have never found the top of the world podium. Uruguay is not yet where it once was, but for the first time in a very long time, they really look like they are one of the world’s best sides again.
Major credit should be given to Uruguay’s coach Oscar Tabarez who has brought Uruguay to its greatest era since the 1950’s. It is astounding that a nation of 3.5 million is such a force in the world game. If you are a reader of this blog, you may have seen me talk about nations who dropped from the heights of football and will never come back. These include Scotland, Hungary, and Austria (and Norway on the women’s side.) One nation that I have never included in that list was Uruguay, although before last year all signs pointed to that direction. Under Tabarez, Uruguay experienced something of a Renaissance–he has complete control over all levels of the Uruguayan national team. The semifinals at the World Cup, the 2011 Copa America (cemented the World Cup lesson that they are indeed currently the best side in South America), qualification for the 2013 Confederations Cup, qualification for the 2012 Olympics (the first time Uruguay will be in the competition since 1928), a second place finish in the u-19 South American championships, and runners-up at the u-17 World Cup this summer. (Of course, this good fortune could all change. Neither Tabarez nor Forlan will be there for much longer.)
Credit also Peru who beat Venezuela to finish third. Peru has come a long way from last place in South American qualification for the last year’s World Cup. South America has been turned upside down and the minnows are beating back the giants. If this keeps up, then qualification for the 2014 World Cup will be very satisfying indeed.
One final note: there are rumors that the Copa America will expand to 16 teams, meaning that there will be six invitations to CONCACAF sides. One hope that the US will be one of them. The Copa America is one of the world’s great competitions (even if this year’s tournament was not thrilling), the US should be honored to be a part of it.
Both Uruguay and Paraguay have beautiful, melodious national anthems. In fact, most of South America seems to have beautiful, melodious national anthems.