Monday, August 26, 2013

Clearly, the bulk was more or less equal, but far bellow the real contenders. Even the bronze medalists were closer to the bulk, than to the top two: Fenix ended 3 points above Defensor, yet, 12 points behind the 2nd placed club.

Good year for Fenix surely. Founded in 1916, they had little to boast about, so third place was real success. Good to rub the noses of their traditional rivals too – Racing, the 'arch-enemy', was hopelessly behind. Very, very far behind - 5th in Second Division. The phoenix was flying high. Kind of...

Which left the usual duopoly to compete for the title: Nacional and Penarol. Nacional left the crowd far behind and also had the best defense, allowing only 20 goals in the 22 championship matches , but they were not real contenders this year. The previous year Pedro Rodolfo Dellacha navigated them to first place, but the great Argentinian coach went to make Millonarios champions of Colombia. Perhaps that weakened Nacional, for they had slightly more famous squad than Penarol. May be so, yet facts were clear: Nacional was unable to win a direct match against the arch-enemy and most likely that was the big difference. 16 wins, 4 ties, 2 losses, 50-20 goal-difference, 36 points.

Standing from left: Rodolfo Rodriguez, Hugo De Leon, Gimenez, Raul Moller, Adan Machado, Julio Montero-Castillo.

Bottom: Miguel Caillava, Alfredo De Los Santos, Juan Ramon Carrasco, Nelson Agresta, Alberto Bica.

Well, the little blond mascot must be mentioned too: Marcelo Tejera. He became well known player when grew up – here is only 5 years old, many years before playing Cagliari, Boca Juniors, Southampton, to mention a few of his clubs, including a season with Nacional (2006-07). All in the distant future – others were important in 1978. Some were veterans from the already distant days: Montero-Castillo and the 33-years old Argentine Juan Carlos 'Palito' Mamelli.

Mamelli was apparently fading by 1978, but the veterans were joined by up and coming stars – Rodolfo Rodriguez, Hugo De Leon, and others. Perhaps the team was still 'in between' – the veternas getting too old for real impact, and the youngsters not reaching thier full capacity yet. Still, the team looked more solid than Penarol's...

Which finished first 3 points ahead of the arch-enemy. And three titles ahead as well – it was their 35th title, to 'only' 32 won by Nacional. By numbers, Penarol were supreme: 17 wins and 5 ties. Not a single lost match! 70 goals scored – in 22 championship games! Only 22 received.

Penarol did not look stronger than Nacional, but had current stars – the up and coming Ruben Paz, the new reacruit from Defensor Sporting Fernando Alvez between the goalposts, the missing on the picture young talent Victor Diogo, and perhaps the best Uruguayan players in the 1970s – Walter Olivera and Fernando Morena. Quite enough for domestic superiority and also sad – Olivera and Morena played in the low years of Uruguayan football and never became the world-famous stars they deserved to be. Caught in the crisis, between stronger generations. They and Penarol had to be satified with domestic success – but in clearly weak league.

Bleak year... yet, still remarkable and memorable in one sense: a great record was set in 1978. 2.894 goals peg game was the average for the season – high scoring, it seems, but really only Nacional and Penarol, with 120 goals combined, contributed. Yes, it was easy to score against weak opponents, but records are records.

Fernando Morena scored 7 goals against Huracan Buceo. An unbeatable record. He also ended with total of 36 goals – the all-time record of the country. Something inevitably memorable.

Memorable, but not good enough... the crisis was still dominant. Luckily, a new crop of talent was emerging: the juniors. Some of them already appeared in the first teams.

Brighter future – the Uruguayan Under-19 national team won the South American championship in 1979. There was hope, no matter how slowly positive changes happened. After all, none of the young champions became a big star – but they were fresh breath of air for ailing football.