Uruguay left with shattered dreams
Uruguay's dreams of appearing at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany were shattered on Wednesday in Sydney in the cruellest of fashions. Thousands of miles from home, in front of more than 80,000 Australian supporters, Uruguay lost to the Socceroos in a dramatic penalty shoot-out, thus becoming the only former world champions not to make it to next year's finals.
Expectations were running high in this small football-mad corner of South America in the build-up to the game. Millions of Uruguayans rose early on Wednesday morning to huddle round their TV sets and anxiously follow the fortunes of their side, who held a slender 1-0 lead from Saturday's first leg. Unfortunately for them, the result was a far cry from what they had hoped for. A Marco Bresciano goal forced extra time and then penalties, which eventually went Australia's way after misses by Dario Rodriguez and Marcelo Zalayeta. Guus Hiddink's Australia side, inspired by the magnificent goalkeeping of Mark Schwarzer, claimed the coveted ticket to Germany, avenging their 2001 play-off defeat in the process.
Desolation in the dressing room
Both the Uruguayan team and coaching staff were inconsolable after the game. The players, who had flown thousands of miles in economy class, battled to the very end only to see their dreams go up in smoke in the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati summed up the mood of despondency afterwards with brutal honesty: "This is the lowest point of my sporting life. As the person who calls the shots both technically and tactically, the responsibility lies with me."
"I feel sorry for the people of Uruguay, with us falling like this at the last hurdle, but I'm at peace with myself. The players gave it their all and fought like lions for the cause," the coach added. Meanwhile back in his homeland, questions were being asked about his decision to take off Alvaro Recoba, considered by many as the team's most influential player.
It was not only the coach who agreed to face the media in Sydney. Captain Paolo Montero, who limped off injured, also had something important to say. "I'm retiring from the national team," the veteran defender told reporters, calling the result an "injustice". He added: "This group of players deserve to be at the World Cup finals." It was a sad end for the former Serie A star, whose long international career included an appearance at Korea/Japan 2002.
Regret and repercussions
As was to be expected, the streets of Montevideo were awash with tears of disappointment in the aftermath of the result. The print media caught the mood of the nation with dramatic headlines like "From Dream To Nightmare", "Celeste in Mourning" and "A slap in the face for the Celeste".
El País did not hold back, stating bluntly that the Celeste had "failed". The paper then went on to criticise Fossati's side for their lack of forcefulness, saying: "One goal would have been enough, but they couldn't find the net, not even from the spot." El Observador took a similar line with its comment "The dream slipped away with each chance missed" - a clear reference to Uruguay's misfiring forwards. "Our elimination was neither miraculous nor shocking; the players neither heroes nor villains. There were no extremes in this case. Uruguay's performance wasn't shameful or extraordinary, just mediocre, although it hurts just the same," the paper added.
For its part, Ultimas Noticias led with "The Dream is Over", adding that it had been "more of an illusion than a dream". It also reminded its readers that Uruguay would be the only former champions missing from Germany.
Finally, all the dailies gave prominence to Fossati's statement on the repercussions of this latest setback for the team. "Uruguay need to start by taking a long hard look at themselves so as to draw conclusions about what went wrong," the coach was quoted as saying.