Brazilians flock to watch Uruguay
SETE LAGOAS, Brazil -- It appears there are no hard feelings.
Perhaps they were unaware of the history that exists between the two teams, or perhaps they just did not care. What is certain is that 5,000 spectators, mainly Brazilian, gathered at the Arena do Jacaré to catch a glimpse of the 1950 World Cup champions -- the stars of that fateful day at the Maracana stadium, the Uruguay national team.
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Only one day after having arrived at the Confins de Belo Horizonte airport, and after having received a warm samba-filled welcome at their hotel in Sete Lagoas, Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez was ready to comply with his FIFA requirements. As requested, the coach organized a training session open to the public before the squad's debut at this 2014 World Cup against Costa Rica in Fortaleza.
On the right-hand side of the stands, low down, up against the wired fence, a group of Uruguayans could be seen, well prepared with their country's flags. The rest of the stadium was dominated by the color yellow.
The squad stepped onto the field at 3:45 p.m. Having jogged round the field to the sound of a grand ovation from the crowd, the players began to warm up. At one end of the field were the three goalkeepers and 19 players. At the other end, the one everyone had come to see: Luis Suarez.
The Liverpool striker, who is currently recovering from an operation to his left knee, carried out some ball exercises, dodged cones and shot with both feet. On such a hot afternoon, he kept himself well-hydrated and chatted frequently with members of the training staff.
During the last half-hour, Tabarez organised a friendly game between the players. Red bibs against the celestial blue. It was awhile before the first goal was scored. Booing could even be heard when a shot on goal ended up in the street.
Surprisingly, chants of "U-ru-guay, U-ru-guay" could be heard, though with little evidence of La Celeste's repertoire, the crowd soon began chanting in Portuguese. At the end, the chant of "Bra-zil, Bra-zil" dominated, which triggered some retaliation from the Uruguayan fans, in the form of whistling.
Eventually, the spectators were witnesses to three goals. The last one was by far the best, a Gaston Ramirez masterpiece. The Southampton midfielder was dynamite in the box, with just one side-step he fooled the goalkeeper and found the back of the net.
The training session finished an hour after it began, Diego Lugano leading the team toward the crowd-filled stands. For several minutes, he signed flags, had pictures taken with the fans and gave away his personal belongings. On his way back to the dressing rooms, practically naked, he came to the aid of a small boy who had managed to get onto the field and was being chased by the police.
The only player who could not participate fully in the training session was precisely the most watched, hovering on the sidelines right next to the bunker for photographers and cameramen. Twenty minutes before the end of the session, showing signs of tiredness, Luis Suarez removed his boots and left the field.
The fans of La Celeste have just one hope -- that he puts his boots back on sooner than later.