South American Football

Uruguay kicks off and pins hopes on Forlan

PenarolThe Uruguayan league kicked off last weekend and predictably for a small nation, Montevideo will continue to dominate the Primera Division. Thirteen of the 16 teams are from the capital city, with three – Villa Teresa, Liverpool and Defensor Sporting – added to the 10 that survived last season. It might have been 14 had Rampla Juniors not been relegated.

The top two clubs, Penarol and Nacional, have stood astride the Primera Division for decades, and there’s little chance that they will ever be unseated from their position at the forefront of Uruguayan football. Between them they have won 72 of the 83 championships since the country embraced professionalism.

Penarol, who were named South American club of the [20th] century, are still smarting from losing the Uruguayan championship play-off to their rivals Nacional, a game that didn’t pass without controversy after being abandoned with seven minutes to go with Nacional winning 3-2. Penarol fans invaded the pitch but the result stood and Nacional were awarded the title. The rivalry between these two Montevideo giants dates back to 1900 and is known as the “Uruguayan Clasico”.

The club is arguably the most popular across Uruguay – a survey revealed that 45% of the country are supporters of the Manyas. The recent trouble was not the first time that the club has fallen foul of bad behaviour, in the past crowd violence has led to them being docked points and it has cost them three championships.

Penarol went into the new season with Diego Forlan in their front line. The former World Cup star, now 36 years of age, has joined the club his father used to play for. Forlan, who was named the player of the 2010 World Cup, scored on his first appearance for Penarol amid emotional scenes.

Forlan’s return to his homeland – which is being treated like the return of a prodigal son – should add something to Penarol as they try to win their first title since 2013. Certainly Uruguayan national coach Oscar Tabarez believes that Forlan’s homecoming will be a positive for Uruguay’s domestic competition. “Forlan will give our league greater visibility in other countries,” he said.

Penarol started the season in fine style, winning 3-0 at Cerro, another Montevideo-based club. Forlan didn’t get on the scoresheet, but the old war horse did manage a full 90 minutes. Incredibly, it was his Uruguayan league debut although he did play for Penarol’s youth team. Champions Nacional also got off to a winning start on the opening day with a 4-1 victory against Vila Teresa.

This weekend, Penarol host El Tanque Sisley while Nacional are at home to River Plate.

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