Uruguay’s World Cup elimination could be era-ending
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — It didn’t work at either end of the field for Uruguay in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Most clearly, when goalkeeper Fernando Muslera allowed Antoine Griezmann’s seemingly straightforward shot to bounce off his hands and into the net to put France ahead 2-0 on Friday.
“Fernando is a top goalkeeper. We all make mistakes. That’s football,” Uruguay captain Diego Godin said. “We have to move on.”
Before that blunder at the back, Uruguay was struggling up front.
Luis Suarez was ineffective without striker partner Edinson Cavani, who didn’t recover from injury in time to play. That left Uruguay without its best forward at the tournament. With no Cavani, Suarez didn’t manage a shot on goal in the game. Cavani’s replacement, Cristhian Stuani, had only one shot and was taken off in the second half.
It was a meek end to a World Cup that had all the signs of being a defining moment for long-serving coach Oscar Tabarez, the 71-year-old former teacher who has reformed Uruguayan soccer in the 12 years he has been in charge of the national team.
“We’ve lost before, so we’re not learning anything new,” Tabarez said, stressing Uruguay’s ability to recover from setbacks.
Yet the big question now for Uruguay, a country of only 3½ million people, is who will lead it forward.
Tabarez, who walks with the help of a crutch, is not expected to continue as head coach much longer. Suarez, Cavani, Godin, Muslera and other key players are all in their 30s and probably won’t be back for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
That might leave Tabarez’s mission, started over a decade ago, to put Uruguay permanently back among the best incomplete. Uruguay won two World Cups in the early days of the tournament, before Tabarez began the rebuilding in 2006. The team hadn’t reached the quarterfinals since 1970 but Uruguay has done it twice in the last three World Cups under Tabarez.
The veteran coach said he had faith that his country, however small the population, would continue to challenge at World Cups.
“What I know for sure is that Uruguay is going to be a football nation. It’s going to keep developing,” Tabarez said. “I think the world has seen what we have achieved. The world knows what we can do.”
Asked about his future, Tabarez wouldn’t say what his plans were with regard to continuing as coach, but there were hints.
“For me, it has been a huge honor to be the national coach,” he said, “and there’s nothing more beautiful or more satisfying than that.”
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