Luis Suárez was the first to arrive. It would have been enough for a city like Salto, a small outpost buried away in a remote corner of a little nation, to be known for producing one of the greatest strikers of his time if everything had gone according to plan. Except for the fact that a second one came exactly three weeks later.
Edinson Cavani grew up only a few blocks away from Luis Suárez. The fact that the two players who would, for more than a decade, help transform Uruguay’s national team into one of the most potent in the world were born in such close proximity and in such quick succession lends their origin storey a faintly fantastical gleam, as does the fact that they were born in such close succession. After all, lightning is not intended to strike again in the same place.
Uruguay’s position in the sun is changing, slowly but steadily. A shadow is beginning to cast across it. Its last two World Cup qualifying matches, against Argentina and Brazil, were in humiliating losses, and a return encounter against Argentina on Friday in Montevideo and a trip to Bolivia on Tuesday provide little solace in the coming weeks. Uruguay is now ranked fifth in South American qualifying heading into these video games, putting them at danger of missing out on a computerised qualification position for Qatar 2022 and of moving farther away from the safety net of a playoff berth in the process.
This is the first time that the coach who has led Uruguay’s resurgence on the international scene — 74-year-old Oscar Washington Tabárez, whose motion but not, he has emphasised, his ability has been limited by Guillain-Barré disease — has seemed vulnerable. There are many in Uruguay who believe that his time has come to an end.
For many, the very thought is unfathomable, falling somewhere between anathema and heresy on the scale of absurdity. Suárez said that it demonstrated how “spoiled” people had become as a result of their success, which included fans, journalists, executives, and probably even players. His colleagues, including the imposing centre defence José Mara Giménez, expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that “soccer has no memories.” Even Diego Forlán, the former striker who has since retired and taken on the role of revered elder statesman, looked to be in pain. “It might hurt me,” he said following the team’s most recent two defeats.
After all, it didn’t complete, or at least it didn’t finish at the time it was supposed to. Tabárez and his assistants had been called to the Uruguayan soccer federation’s headquarters after the team’s defeat to Brazil in the World Cup qualifying match. They spent two hours pleading their case to the executives. The federation’s leaders decided to take a night’s rest before making their decision; the following morning, they affirmed that Tabárez would remain in his position.
Brazil and Argentina have both advanced to the semifinals of the World Cup in the previous three tournaments, which is a stronger performance than Argentina’s and an equal showing to Brazil. There’s also a Copa América championship tossed in for good measure. Uruguay, with a population of barely three million people, has accomplished everything. This is a location where lightning hits more often than one would predict given the circumstances.
As a result of Guillain-Barré syndrome, the coach who has led Uruguay’s return to international prominence — 74-year-old Juan Washington Tabárez, whose mobility but not, he has asserted, his skill has been restricted — has been vulnerable for the first time this season. In Uruguay, there are many who feel that his time has come to an end.
The likes of Suárez and Cavani may not be among them, but they will undoubtedly be out there in the ether someplace, another bolt from the blue. “The players will show up,” he predicted. “They may be different, but there will always be more participants in the game.”