Uruguay’s progress to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was far from smooth. One of the biggest problems coach Oscar Tabarez faced along the way was finding a goalkeeper he could rely on, with four men appearing between the Celeste sticks during the campaign. FIFA.com looks at the contribution each of them made to the side's qualification, and assesses their chances of being first-choice at the world finals.
Castillo usurps Carini
It was no surprise that Tabarez entrusted Fabian Carini with goalkeeping duties at the start of qualifying in October 2007. After all, the 28-year-old was the owner of over 60 caps in total, and had appeared at Korea/Japan 2002, in the Germany 2006 preliminaries and in two Copa Americas.
The only problem was that Carini was not a starter for Inter Milan, a situation he tried to remedy by moving to Spanish side Murcia, where he also failed to hold down a first-team place. His lack of match action perhaps impacted on his performances for his country, with Uruguay winning only one of their first five games, the opener against Bolivia, before drawing two and losing two, conceding six goals in the process.
Following the 1-2 defeat against Brazil in June 2008, Carini lost his place to his understudy Juan Castillo. Occupying a place on the bench for the next five matches, all the indications were that he would be restored to the starting XI after Castillo picked up an injury that October. Yet, although Tabarez included him for the November friendly against France, he was out of the picture for the March 2009 game against Paraguay.
“He hasn’t played enough,” explained the coach at the time. “I think you can put it down to his circumstances.” Tabarez has never selected him since.
Having decided to make a change between the posts, it was entirely logical that Tabarez should turn to Castillo first of all, especially as he had given the Botafogo shot-stopper his international debut two years earlier. Known in the game as Muralla (The Wall), Castillo played in the next five matches, keeping a clean sheet in three of them and conceding four goals in all. Of those five outings, Uruguay won two, drew two and lost one, against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
After helping his side defeat Colombia in Bogota, Castillo drew praise from none other than Ubaldo Fillol, who kept goal for Argentina when they won the FIFA World Cup on home soil in 1978. “He has an unconventional style,” said Fillol. “He’s not your typical steady keeper. He likes to take risks and get involved and he’s not afraid to do things differently.”
Yet, just as Castillo was cementing his place in the side, and only a fortnight after the match with Bolivia in October 2008, he tore cruciate ligaments in his right knee while on club duty.
Muslera capitalises on Viera slip-up
Even though there was a five-month gap before the qualifying competition resumed, Tabarez knew that Castillo would not be fit by then. He thus ended Sebastian Viera’s three-year spell in the international wilderness by calling him up to the squad for the November friendly against France.
A reliable pair of hands, the then-25-year-old had made his Uruguay debut under Jorge Fossati at the Copa America 2004, before making eight appearances in the qualifiers for Germany 2006. Like Carini before him, Viera was not playing regular football for his club, Villarreal. Yet, after remaining on the bench against the French, he did get the nod for a friendly against Libya the following February and the Paraguay match a month later.
After keeping clean sheets in the 2-0 defeat of Los Guaraníes and the subsequent goalless draw with Chile in Santiago, Viera turned in a poor performance in a heavy 4-0 defeat by Brazil in Montevideo. “I’m angry because I’ve always performed well for the national team, and yet as soon as I have a bad game the fans get on top of me,” he lamented afterwards. He has yet to be given a chance to redeem himself.
Four days after that loss to the five-time world champions, Tabarez took his side to Venezuela, restoring the fit-again Castillo to the number-one slot despite the fact he had yet to return to the Botafogo first team.
“It was bad luck,” said Castillo after Viera’s disappointing display. “No one can deny what a good keeper Viera is, and when you go through something like that you want to prove yourself again straight away.”
Aside from the Venezuela match, which ended in a 2-2 draw, Castillo would also appear in the back-to-back games against Peru and Colombia in September.
Defeated in Lima, Uruguay bounced back with a win over Los Cafeteros on home soil. Castillo’s performances were not up to standard, however, as he himself recognised: “I’ve made mistakes and so have Fabian (Carini) and Sebastian (Viera), but we just have to accept them and move on. There might be a lack of faith at the moment but we have to analyse our mistakes, try to avoid them in the future and become reliable again. Whoever plays has to be secure.”
The errors of the previous three incumbents opened the way for 23-year-old Lazio keeper Nestor Muslera, who was enjoying one of his best spells with the Italian side since his arrival there in 2007. Castillo’s deputy in those two games against Peru and Colombia, the tall custodian was promoted to the starting line-up for the crucial final two qualifying matches away to Ecuador and at home to Argentina. After impressing in both games, he held on to his place for the play-off against Costa Rica, with Castillo remaining on the bench.
Having proved his dependability under pressure, Muslera would appear to be in pole position for South Africa 2010. Neither Castillo nor Carini have given up hope of pipping him to the job, though, having made respective moves to Deportivo Cali and Atletico Mineiro in a bid to boost their chances of gaining Tabarez’s approval.
Also in the frame are Defensor Sporting’s Martin Silva and Esteban Conde of Universidad de Chile, two 26-year-olds who forced their way into the squad at various times during the qualifiers without getting a chance to prove their credentials.
With Tabarez due to announce his squad on 11 June, there is still plenty of time for Uruguay’s goalkeeping candidates to stake their claims. The competition for places promises to be intense.