Slowly, suddenly, though, a shadow is creeping into Uruguay’s place in the sun. Its last two World Cup qualifiers, against Argentina and Brazil, brought heavy defeats, and a return match against Argentina on Friday in Montevideo and a visit to Bolivia on Tuesday offer little respite. Uruguay sits fifth in South American qualifying entering those games, in danger of missing an automatic qualification spot for Qatar 2022, and at risk of falling away from the safety net of a playoff spot.
For the first time, the coach who has overseen Uruguay’s revival on the international stage — Óscar Washington Tabárez, 74, his movement but not, he has insisted, his ability now constricted by Guillain-Barré syndrome — has seemed vulnerable. There are those, in Uruguay, who believe his day has passed.
For many, the very idea borders on the unthinkable, somewhere between anathema and heresy. Suárez suggested that it showed how “spoiled” people — fans, journalists, executives, possibly even players — had been by success. One of his teammates, the towering central defender José María Giménez, bemoaned that “soccer has no memory.” Even Diego Forlán, the striker now retired into a role as beloved elder statesman, seemed wounded. “It would pain me,” he said after the team’s two most recent losses, “if it ended like this.”
It did not end, of course, or at least it did not end then. In the aftermath of the loss to Brazil, Tabárez and his assistants were summoned to the headquarters of Uruguay’s soccer federation. For two hours, they pleaded their case to executives. The federation’s leaders agreed to sleep on the decision; the next morning, they confirmed that Tabárez would remain in place.