Friday, June 11, 2010

A Great Little Country

It was already easy, as an Irishman, to choose sides in tonight's Group A match between France and Uruguay. I have to say though that the look of the current Uruguayan side, with what is one of the most electrifying strike force in world football, Luís Suárez of Ajax and Atlético's Diego Forlán - close to 100 goals between them this past season. I also have an admiration for Uruguayan football that survived the experience of watching their ugly abrasive sides of the 1980s. It's hard not to admire a tiny country that dominated international football in its early days, shocking Europe by winning two Olympics in the 1920s, winning the World Cup on home soil in 1930 and only a fit of pique prevented them from travelling to Italy to defend their crown in 1934. And then there was the 1950 World Cup-winning captain, Obdulio Varela, (pictured) possibly one of the greatest, noblest men ever to play professional football. And there was also the magnificent Enzo Francescoli, the only saving grace of the disgraceful team that could have lit up Mexico 86 but chose instead to kick everyone in sight. Uruguay did nothing special in qualifying but the memory of their valiant efforts against Senegal and Denmark eight years ago is fresh enough to root for them and hope for some magic.

And they will believe of course that France and within their reach. I still believe les bleus will repeat their first round exit of 2002. Everyone blames it on Raymond Domenech but there's been a culture of shiftlessness in the French set-up that predates him by some time. The way they collapsed in Korea without Zidane and their uniformly awful performances in Portugal two years later suggest that the rot is deep set. I don't expect it to be resolved in this competition.

In the meantime, here's some classic Uruguayan rock from the 1960s. It's Los Shakers, you might be able to spot one or two of their influences: