There’s an urban legend that a long time ago, 1981 to be precise, Uruguay won the South American Youth Championship tournament. How was such a thing possible? Is it true? Does video evidence exist of this triumph? Well probably not.
It was a different era, the tournament was held in Ecuador, If you got around to seeing MUNDIALITO the movie, you’ll know color television did not arrive to Uruguay till after 1981, so I’m assuming color footage does not exist, and video footage is probably harder to come by. Luckily for us, there were newspaper accounts and that fine website, Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF for short) continues to exist. RSSSF have the stats to prove that Uruguay did indeed win a Youth level tournament in 1981. This my friends should be celebrated, maybe as Uruguay supporters, we should each send RSSSF a small monetary donation, to keep this historical record up for future generations to see.
Yes I’m being sarcastic for dramatic effect. The reason for my sarcasm is obvious, Uruguay’s Under 20 team lost last night to Paraguay. Which in layman’s terms means that Uruguay will once again not challenge for the Under-20 South American title. 1981 is fast becoming the 1950 all Uruguay youth teams must match up to.
I’ve been watching the South American Under-20 tournament on and off since 1999, I was actually in Uruguay for the 1999 edition (the team which had Forlan) and was able to see most of the games on television, I remember being impressed by Brazil which had Ronaldinho and Rodrigo Gral, a blonde curly haired striker who never really made the kind of impact Ronaldinho made professionally. In 2007 the tournament was finally shown on American television, and that was the year Uruguay had Cavani aka El Matador, Uruguay lost to Argentina in the final. I never got to see the Under-20 World Cup that followed, that team also featured Luis Suarez, I was introduced to Luis Suarez like most of you at the start of the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers in late 2007. The point I’m trying to make if you’ll bear with me, all these teams are known for one indispensable player, the “mythic” ’81 team had Francescoli, the ’99 had Forlan and the 2007 had Cavani. Players that have “can’t miss” stardom plastered all over their foreheads.
I’m not saying this team doesn’t have that, in fact you can pick and choose possible superstars on this year’s edition of the Under-20 squad, such as Nico Lopez, Diego Laxalt, Rolan & Gonzalo Bueno… but for whatever the reason, the sums don’t add up at all. It’s sad that this drought continues at the youth level, because players never forget the negativity of not winning. This feeling stays with the players and is carried with them for the rest of their lives.
For many years the senior side was cursed with this inferiority complex that no matter what they did in the World Cup, they would never be as good as that that team that won it all in 1950. And this is perhaps one of the problems of Uruguay’s football culture, too much emphasis is put on winning. Even Obdulio Varela once said that we should forget about Maracana and start a new page. But as Ondino Viera once said, “Other countries have their history. Uruguay has its football.” And this may be the problem at hand. 2010 presented a different discourse, that while winning it all is important, sometimes getting there is just as important.
And no, I’m not saying, lets celebrate second place, far from it, I am saying, step back a bit, look at the tournament as a whole, while this squad was far from perfect, they did entertain in the group stage. That’s important, for many years Uruguay fielded pragmatic teams that did their best to suck the joy out of football, I can’t say that about this team. Sunday will tell a different story, whether Uruguay qualifies to the Under-20 World Cup or not — and if they fail, then yes, you have my permission to curse out Verzeri