Viaje intenso y necesario por lugares que nunca anduve y mi regreso repetitivo a casa.
lunes, 17 de enero de 2011
Uruguay is a small nation with a great football history.
"There are countries with more footballers than we have people," Oscar Tabárez said last night (in the World Cup 2010's press conference) while assessing the chances of Uruguay, the team he coaches, making it through today's World Cup semi-final against Holland. But out of their tiny population the Uruguayans have conjured a wonderful football history studded with remarkable individuals. One of them, a key figure in their early international success, was José Andrade.
When Andrade was born in Salto, Uruguay's second city, in 1901, his father was said to be 98 years old, an expert in African magic who had escaped from slavery in Brazil. In the team photograph of the first winners of the World Cup in 1930, José stands out: his is the only black face.
He began his working life as a carnival musician, shoeshine boy and newspaper seller before becoming a key member of the team that made Uruguay the dominant force in world football in the years when the game's great international tournaments were coming into existence. With Andrade at right-half, Uruguay won the South American championship in 1923, 1924 and 1926, and the gold medal at the Olympic soccer tournaments in Paris in 1924 and Amsterdam in 1928.
The first World Cup, usurping the status of the Olympic competition, was held in Uruguay and it was no surprise when the hosts emerged victorious, coming from behind to beat Argentina 4-2 in the final in front of 93,000 spectators in Montevideo's newly completed Centenario stadium.
They might have enjoyed further success before the second world war had they not declined to travel to Italy in 1934 on the grounds that so few European teams had bothered to cross the Atlantic four years earlier. In 1938 they also boycotted the third World Cup, in France, because the organisers had reneged on a promise to alternate between Europe and South America.
The next time they entered, in 1950, they won it again, beating Brazil 2-1 in Rio's new Maracanã stadium. Alcides Ghiggia's winning goal gave the host nation a new word –Maracanazo – to describe any sudden catastrophe.
The team in 1930
Uruguay is the smallest country to have won the World Cup, with a population of 1.5m in 1930 and just over twice that now, and the smallest in the Conmebol federation, from which its team qualified for this year's competition after winning a play-off against Costa Rica. Now they have outlasted all of the four continental neighbours — Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile — who finished above them in the table. Today's game – against opponents they have met on four occasions and beaten three times – is their third semi-final since 1950, and their performances so far in this tournament have encouraged the hope that they can go one better than their semi-final defeats by Hungary in 1954 and Brazil in 1970.
If you want to know what football means to Uruguay, and about the richness of the game's historyin a country that gained its independence in 1828 and whose current president, José Mujica, is a former guerrilla fighter, try to find a copy of Eduardo Galeano's Football in Sun and Shadow, published 15 years ago. A leftist journalist and novelist, Galeano is his country's best-known contemporary writer. In childhood he had hoped to become a footballer, and his writings portray the glory and decline of the game in a country where it belongs to no single social class and where the fans still cling to a concept of la garra – fighting spirit – which gradually, as the golden years drifted to an end, became synonymous with ruthless physicality.
As well as Andrade and Ghiggia, the great names of Uruguayan football history include José Nasazzi and Obdulio Varela, the captains of 1930 and 1950; the great striker Juan Schiaffino, who became a hero at Milan; the goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz; the centre-half José Santamaría, a pillar of the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s; and Enzo Francescoli, known – in several languages – as the Prince when he wore the No10 shirt of River Plate, Racing Club de France, Marseille and Cagliari in the 1980s and 90s.
The best-known figure in Tabárez's squad – before Luis Suárez's handball against Ghana on Saturday, at any rate – is Diego Forlán, whose 27 goals in 62 appearances for the national team threaten the record held for 80 years by Héctor Scarone, a member of the first World Cup-winning team, who plundered 31 goals in 52 games and played for Barcelona and Internazionale. Virtually all Uruguay's best players have sought their fortune abroad, and although Forlán failed at Old Trafford, a move to Spain re-established his reputation as a prolific goalscorer. His father, Pablo Forlán, spent many years as a full-back with São Paulo in Brazil and was a member of Uruguay's 1966 and 1974 World Cup squads.
Not surprisingly, given the intimate proportions of the country, Uruguayan football is full of continuities and coincidences. In 1930, for example, the World Cup-winning side was coached by Alberto Suppici, nicknamed the Professor, while Tabárez, his latest successor, is known as the Teacher, acknowledging his first occupation.
A quiet 63-year-old whose extensive CV includes spells with Peñarol, Boca Juniors and Milan, Tabárez talks about his team's "modest chance" of success and has worked with some success to restore the original definition of la garra, which once meant trickery with the ball rather than brutality. This is his second spell in charge of La Celeste, the first coming in 1990, when the teacher learnt useful lessons.
On that occasion he had taken the squad to Europe well before the start of the tournament, beating England 2-1 on a glorious summer evening at Wembley, with Francescoli in full flow, and drawing 3-3 with a full-strength West Germany, the future champions. The tournament itself, however, was a different matter, and they were eliminated by Italy in the second round.
"We came up against a problem that arose from the long time that the players were away from the things that for Uruguayans are very significant, like their loved ones, their everyday habits," he told World Soccer recently. So he decided to keep the team in Montevideo, taking advantage of a climate similar to that of South Africa and virtually forgetting about arranging warm-up matches. "I've been working with these players for four years," he added, "so I just had to make sure they were fit and that they'd recovered after a long season. I didn't need to play friendlies to draw conclusions."
It seems to have worked, as has his attempt to get his players to enjoy the experience of being at the tournament, whatever the outcome. "A World Cup is a party, a celebration," he said last night. "What's happened here is having a very positive impact back home, particularly among young people, children and teenagers and even people in their thirties, who've never seen anything like this before. Looking at the other three teams, it's almost as if we're at a party to which we haven't been invited. We haven't played brilliant football, but we're here and I don't think luck is the only reason." History, too, might have something to do with it.