Uruguay begins this Friday at midnight (Spanish time) against Paraguay in Asunción a path to heroism in the South American qualifiers. That is, buy the ticket to Qatar on the horn. The problem for Celeste is that the Paraguayan capital is not a land of great successes, quite the contrary. In 1958, when Uruguay shared soccer dominance with Italy —two World Cups for each team: 1930 and 1950, the South Americans; 1934 and 1938, the Europeans. The one in 1954 was won by Germany—, the Celeste was left out of Switzerland 58 in Asunción. So, the surprise was capitalized. Uruguay, for now out of Qatar, will debut Diego Alonso as coach in the qualifiers. He will look for what he always looks for, this time with an unprecedented weapon: the collaboration of Atlético’s physical trainer, Profe Óscar Ortega.
After losing the last four games in the qualifiers, the Uruguayan federation decided to do without Maestro Tabárez after 15 years in charge. The coach, who had brought La Celeste back to conquer the continent (he won the Copa América in 2011) and was among the best in the world at South Africa 2010 (he finished fourth), had run out of credit. Among the candidates to replace him was the continuing option of Diego Aguirre, an emotional duo formed by Diego Forlán and Sebastián Abreu, and that of Diego Alonso. The former Valencia, Atlético, Málaga and Murcia player won. Why? In his coaching staff was the name of Óscar Ortega. “When I lived in Argentina I went to see his training sessions and now I was also doing it in Madrid. Years ago I had told him that the day he got the national team, I wanted him with me. It is a privilege that a professional of his caliber is with us”, stated Alonso.
“I saw it very far away due to the difficult responsibility I have in Spain. I want to thank Simeone and the club, who allowed me to be here”, explained Ortega, who in addition to coordinating the physical preparation of the players, has already begun to work on the diet and recovery of the players. Alonso’s alliance with Ortega had the approval of the Celeste heavyweights, especially those who know him from Atlético: Luis Suárez, Godín, Torreira and Giménez. Since the qualification for France 98, the South American qualifiers are played in a single league, Celeste has always had problems qualifying: three times it won the World Cup ticket in the playoffs (2002, 2010 and 2014), it did not play in Germany 2006 and only calmly arrived at Russia 2018 (she was second). Today, Uruguay is in seventh place in the table and has 16 points, the same as Chile (sixth) and one less than Colombia (fourth) and Peru (fifth), which marks the playoff line.
While waiting for the generational change —Betancur and Fede Valverde are called to lead the team in the future—, La Celeste continues to give in to the old guard. Suárez (35 years old), Godín (35), Muslera (35), Cavani (34) and Cáceres (34), all players who participated in the 2011 Copa América final, figure in Diego Alonso’s plans. “The players who have experience and hierarchy are the important ones. They are the ones that appear in difficult moments”, concludes the Uruguayan coach, who when he was called to lead the team was taking different courses at the RFEF.
Something similar happens to Chile than to Uruguay. Still clinging to the litter that won the Copa América in 2015 and 2016 – her only two titles – she was left out of Russia and her ticket to Qatar is up in the air. On Friday (1:15 a.m., Spanish time) it hosts Argentina in Calama (2,260 meters above sea level). The decision to leave Santiago is not random. The coach, Martín Lasarte, prepares his boys to visit Bolivia in La Paz the next day (3,640). Messi will not play in the Albiceleste, who has rest after overcoming the Covid. There are four days left in the South American qualifiers (two will be played now and another two in March) and only Brazil (first in the group) and Argentina (second) have their place guaranteed in Qatar. Ecuador (third), with 23 points, hopes to close its classification on this day.
Brazil does not yield to Real Madrid players
It will be difficult for Real Madrid to have its four Brazilian internationals (Militão, Casemiro, Vinicius and Rodrygo) for the Copa del Rey quarterfinal match against Athletic on Thursday 3 February at San Mamés. Brazil has two commitments in the South American qualifiers – today against Ecuador (10:00 p.m.) and at dawn next Wednesday the 2nd against Paraguay (1:30 a.m.) – and has already warned that it will not give up its players. “We are not going to release the players. The footballers have to be with us until the end of the FIFA period. What there is is a conversation and depending on how they play the first game, it will be possible to discuss whether or not they play the second. We cannot open a precedent. We have few days with the players and we have to take advantage of this year”, explained the former Atlético de Madrid player, Juninho Paulista, coordinator of the Brazilian team, in the program El Larguero de la Cadena Ser. A similar situation is experienced by Federico Valverde , which has two commitments with Uruguay.
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