World Cup: Sex and drugs and Peñarol

Tim Sturtridge

tabarez 248x300 World Cup: Sex and drugs and PeñarolA nation home to a million less people than Scotland is preparing to gain passage to their fifth World Cup semi-final. All that stands in the way is the entire continent of Africa.

With Uruguay sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina you could be forgiven for thinking that they have reaped the benefits of having such talented neighbours. In fact its Uruguay themselves who have more often than not showed South America’s big guns how its done.

Argentina and Brazil may have matched Uruguay for skill in the 1930 and 1950 World Cups finals but what won the day was La Celeste’s superior tactical nous and an insatiable appetite for upsetting the applecart.

After Uruguay had booked their place in South Africa following a scrappy play-off win against Costa Rica I headed over the River Plate to take in the country’s Superclasico.

With Peñarol already having the league title sown up the clash against ancient enemy Nacional failed to ignite both on and off the pitch. In a fixture dating back nearly a century you’re bound to get a few stinkers.

Undeterred by the bore draw derby match I headed back to the Estadio Centenario the next day for a butcher’s around El Museo del Fútbol which is housed in the bowels of the stadium.

The early signs were promising with a replica ticket for the first World Cup final handed over as receipt of admission. As you would expect its Uruguay’s two World Cup triumphs which take centre stage in the museum, the shirts of winning captains ‘Mariscal’ José Nasazzi and ‘Negro Jefe’ Obdulio Jacinto Varela are out all year round.

Much of the museums’ two floors are also given over to the early days of football in Uruguay. Peñarol’s original Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club crest in the colours of George Stephenson’s Rocket takes prominence.

Comparing the site in Montevideo to the National Football Museum in Preston I can see where Sepp Blatter is coming from when he says, “South American teams are successful at the moment, maybe because the players have a higher national identification.”

A Uruguayan heading into El Museo del Fútbol is metres away from where their country won the World Cup. At Deepdale you are metres away from some very tasty pakoras.

The South Americans have shown us that inspite of the majority of their starting XIs being based overseas they have retained pride in their national jersey.

Head coach Oscar Tabarez also deployed his talents in Europe before his second World Cup campaign in charge of Uruguay. El Maestro feels he is now reaping the benefits of his squad “capitalising on those experiences of playing at a high level” rather than any loss of cultural identity.

The spirit in the camp was seen trickling down the face of Monaco midfielder Diego Perez when he cut his face during the 1-0 win over Mexico which ensured Uruguay topped Group A.

El Ruso Perez knows exactly what it means to pull on the sky blue, “When you’re born in a country that has history, you’re born with a certain pressure because you know it’s a football country with a real passion for the game.”

The only domestic based player to have completed every minute of Uruguay’s South African adventure is Peñarol’s battling midfielder Egidio Arevalo. After featuring for  just half a match in Uruguay’s disappointing qualifier campaign Arevalo is playing like he has a telepathic understanding with Perez in the middle of the park.

According to Arevalo however there is nothing supernatural about the job he is doing for his country, “I know exactly what my role is in this team; close down the opposition, win the ball back and give it to the frontmen. There’s a time to knock the ball around and there’s a time to get stuck in.”

Its now over 70 years since French international Gabriel Hanot said comparisons between beautiful Uruguayan football and the hit-and-hope British game were “like comparing Arab thoroughbreds with farm horses.” How much longer will it be before we finally get on the bridle?

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