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Uruguay’s brutality buries Brazil in Copa América quarterfinals

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Uruguay’s brutality buries Brazil in Copa América quarterfinals


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 06: Nahitan Nandez of Uruguay fouls Rodrygo of Brazil during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 quarter-final match between Uruguay and Brazil at Allegiant Stadium on July 06, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

They finished with 26 fouls, 10 men and one shot on target.

They doled out physical beatings minute after minute, all across Allegiant Stadium’s claustrophobic field.

They, Uruguay, turned the last of four Copa América quarterfinals into the soccer equivalent of a bloodbath. And Brazil, mighty Brazil, drowned in it.

Brazil — population 216 million, World Cup titles five, talent infinite — limped out of the tournament Saturday, defeated 0-0 (4-2 on penalties).

Uruguay — population 3.4 million — erupted in delight. Sky blue-clad players streamed onto the field, victorious. Brazilians, devastated, could only watch.

But the story of the night was the brutality they endured, the brutality that reduced joga bonito to something resembling a street fight.

These two South American neighbors dueled for 90 minutes in Las Vegas. And Uruguay, the oft-overshadowed neighbor, simply never backed down.

On paper, there was no contest; “if you take it name by name,” as Brazil’s Andreas Pereira said earlier this week, “we have a team that they dream of having.”

But on the pitch, there was madness. There was Uruguay manager Marcelo Bielsa’s legendary man-to-man press, which strangled Brazil in its own half. There were collisions, it seemed, every three seconds.

Within six minutes, players were practically swinging at each other.

Nicolás de la Cruz careened into Éder Militão, and crunched Militão’s lower leg. Minutes later, with the ball out of play, Ronald Araújo snuck behind Endrick and threw a shoulder into the Brazilian wunderkind’s back.

Somehow, there were no yellow cards until the 39th minute. There were dozens of challenges that would have been fouls in 98% of soccer games around the world, but not here. There were Brazilians howling at referee Dario Herrera, leaping up off their bench and gesticulating frantically to express their fury.

Finally, midway through the second half, they got their call.

Eventually, one of the many flying Uruguayan tackles, from Nahitan Nández, caught Rodrygo flush above the ankle. After a video review, Herrera sent Nández off.

But through it all, even with 10 men for the final 20 minutes, the Uruguayans stayed stable and, in a weird way, calm.

They played with fire, like warriors, with customary Garra Charrúa, with no regard for fatigue nor for their own physical health. They contested every progressive Brazil pass. They hurled themselves into physical duels, occasionally cleaning out teammates, who became necessary casualties.

In the shadow of their own penalty box, they rallied to the ball like a ferocious NFL defense.

They limited Endrick — who started in placed of the suspended Vinicius Junior — to just one completed pass on five attempts. One!

They tumbled or sent Brazilians tumbling so often that Herrera couldn’t possibly blow his whistle every time a player got floored — so the bar for a foul rose to remarkable heights.

And yet there were still 41 fouls in the match. It opened up briefly toward the end of the first half, then got choppy in the second. There were very few sustained possessions. Neither team completed 80% of its passes. Bielsa, up off his sideline water cooler, could be heard over pitch-side microphones imploring his team to keep going, keep pressing: “Vamos! Vamos!”

So they kept going, kept pressing, kept battling. They threw forearms into Brazilian grills. They grabbed yellow jerseys with their hands. They held Brazil to 0.6 expected goals, despite playing the latter stages at a 10-v-11 disadvantage, against a country with 64 times as many people and 27 times as much money.

And of course, they outraged some fans, who felt they were sullying the beautiful game.

But they didn’t care; they made this specific game exactly what they wanted it to be, and sent it to a shootout.

Even between the final whistle and the shootout, there was a minor scuffle near midfield. But then there were penalties that epitomized the duality of Uruguayan soccer. It is brutal, intense, unwavering — and simultaneously skilled.

Federico Valverde slammed his opening attempt into the side netting. Rodrigo Bentancur and Giorgian de Arrascaeta, two typically delightful midfielders, stayed cool. Two Brazilians missed, leaving Uruguay with a sizable shootout lead.

And with the final kick of the night, Manuel Ugarte sealed the deal, lifting Uruguay to a Wednesday semifinal against Colombia, and burying South American soccer’s truest giant.



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