The bitterness emanating from Uruguay and Uruguayans in the wake of the 1-0 Copa America quarterfinal defeat to Chile has been nothing short of astounding.
It bothers them so that Chile matched, and beat, them at their own game.
The expected differing styles between the two sides was evident from the first whistle; Chile’s technical superiority meant they had all of the ball and all of the attacking intent. Uruguay, as they have done to great success in their glittering history, attempted to turn the game into a bitty affair and frighten Chile with strong, rash tackling.
However, this isn’t a Chile side of old. This is a Chile side with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel, some of the biggest warriors to ever wear the red shirt, backed by 47,000 raucous home fans and they are not so easily intimidated. Uruguay expected Chile to roll over meekly in the face of adversity as they have done so often in their history, and they didn’t.
Much has been made of Gonzalo Jara’s encounter with Edinson Cavani, and rightly so. What Jara did was wrong, there is no denying that. Is it any worse than the Uruguayan tackling that is intended to deliberately injure their opponents? But Jara didn’t overreact to Cavani’s retaliation, he didn’t go to ground as if he had been shot and writhe around in feigned agony. He held his face and sat down on the floor, making sure the referee gave Cavani a deserved second yellow card.
Much of Uruguay’s illustrious history has been built on rough-tackling and bending the rules as far as they can without snapping them. Garra Charrua. Last night, Chile bent them further without being caught. I struggle with and am reluctant to use the phrases ‘just desserts’ or ‘taste of their own medicine’. This match wasn’t either. Jara will get his suspension and, again, rightly so. With, at most, only two games left to play in the tournament, it is more than likely his Copa America is over. His presence at the back will be a huge loss, a strange thing to say about a player whose club career has never exceeded the heights of a few Premier League games for West Brom.
Vidal’s drink-driving incident should also not be forgotten, nor forgiven as easily as it has been in some corners of the country. However, many people will continue to have an ongoing internal conflict: desperately wanting Chile to win their first international trophy, but desperately hoping Vidal plays no integral part.
Uruguay may feel aggrieved to have ended the game with nine men, but the truth is they were fortunate it wasn’t less. The team’s explosion, led by captain Diego Godin, culminated in several of their players forcibly manhandling the linesman after he had, correctly, signalled a foul that led to Jorge Fucile’s sending off, forcing referee Sandro Ricci to step in front of his colleague and prevent it from descending into assault.
Manager Oscar Washington Tabarez, so often the calm head on the touchline whenever madness unfolds in front of him, also received his marching orders after audibly abusing one of the officials. To suggest corruption and match-fixing reeks of bitterness. Perhaps the reason Uruguay are such bad losers is because their experiences of defeat pale in comparison to seven of the other nine South American countries.
Last night the better team won and it was a deserved victory. You’d struggle to find anyone from either country who disagrees with that.