Enzo Francescoli is something of an authority when it comes to the Copa America. The Uruguay idol took part in the competition five times and won it on three of those occasions, winning the trophy on Argentinian soil in 1987 and becoming the last Charrúa skipper to hoist it aloft eight years later.
Sixteen years on from that historic achievement at the fabled Estadio Centenario, El Príncipe gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com. As well as discussing Sunday’s final with Paraguay and the suffering he goes through when watching his beloved Celeste, he also tipped Luis Suarez to become the next leader of the Charrúa pack.
FIFA.com: Enzo, how would you rate Uruguay’s Copa America campaign?
Enzo Francescoli: Better than brilliant. It’s not easy to reach the final of the Copa America, especially when it’s being held in Argentina and you have to knock out the hosts. I think the team has built on what they achieved in the World Cup qualifiers and in South Africa, and Uruguayan football in general is on a high right now. The U-20s have reached their World Cup and the Olympic Games, the U-17s reached the final in their World Cup and Penarol did the same in the Libertadores. I hope that run continues, whatever happens in Sunday’s game.
Were you worried the team might sit on their laurels after coming fourth in South Africa?
I spent many years in the national side and I can tell you that Uruguayans never sit on their laurels, anything but. We always swim against the tide, like we did at the Maracana [where Uruguay defeated Brazil to win the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™], at the 1987 Copa America and now here in Argentina. We’ve made a habit of winning amazing games, and this team has carried on with that. You can tell they gained in confidence and experience at the World Cup, and from what I saw in the friendlies I felt they’d have a good Copa America. Maybe Uruguay aren’t to everyone’s taste, but no one can deny they’re a solid team that knows its strengths and weaknesses, has some very fine players and gets results. At the end of the day, that’s what football is all about.
What’s your view of Paraguay, Uruguay’s opponents on Sunday?
They’re a very tough team, with good men and experience. They’re solid in defence but they’re good on the ball too, with several quality players up front, like Nelson Haedo, Lucas Barrios and Roque Santa Cruz. It’s going to be a big test, but the good thing is that Uruguay know that and are in the right frame of mind.
You were the last Uruguayan captain to win the Copa America, back in 1995. How did it feel to lift the trophy?
It’s a unique feeling, no doubt about it. And that was a very special one because we won it in our stadium. We were under a lot of pressure because Uruguay had never lost a cup competition at home. And it was special for me on a personal level because we won at the stadium where I first started to watch football with my father and where I always dreamed of being a champion. It couldn’t have been better.
River Plate’s Estadio Monumental, which was once your home, is the venue for Sunday’s final. Will you be there?
To tell you the truth, I’ve always been a superstitious person and I don’t usually watch games at the stadium. I’m a silent supporter but this time I’m going to be there. I live in Buenos Aires, my family is here and I’ll make an exception for the Uruguay fan in me. I’ll no doubt be hidden away in some corner or other.
Do you suffer a lot when you’re watching games?
I get very nervous. I watch River Plate and Uruguay games at home with my children and I usually turn down invitations from my friends. I smoke an awful lot too. The Argentina game was terrible, the worst one to watch since the Ghana match in South Africa. You suffer a lot when you’re watching from the sidelines.
It was in South Africa that you said Diego Forlan would be Uruguay’s key player in the next few years. Do you think Luis Suarez is about to follow the same path?
Yes, I did, and I was right too, even if a lot of people said it wouldn’t happen. And if Suarez’s already on the way, then why not? He’s got the lot. He’s talented and he’s a hard worker. You can tell he’s gained experience from leading players like Forlan and [Diego] Lugano. He’s going to be the standard bearer of the future alongside [Edinson] Cavani. I hope he keeps going and achieves some big things with the national side. I’d love to see them make it because if they do well, then so will La Celeste.
If you could give the players a message before the final, what would it be?
You really want to know? Well, after what I’ve seen of this team, there’s not much I can say to them. They’ve got things very clear. They play each game as if it were their last and they know the most important thing there is to know: there are no easy games, and to win matches you have to play hard.
One last question. Where can Uruguay not afford to go wrong in the final?
Where most of the teams who’ve been knocked out so far have gone wrong: finishing. From what I’ve seen in this tournament, apart from playing well the importing thing is to take what chances come your way.