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Last Updated: Monday, 28 March, 2005, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Montero the key for Uruguay
By Tim Vickery

The closest I've ever come to kicking in the TV was last year in Brazil watching the World Cup qualifier between Uruguay and Paraguay.

Juventus and Uruguay defender Paolo Montero
Montero consistently gives a masterclass in the art of defending

The Brazilian so-called expert summariser - a picture of smugness - spent the whole game arguing that Uruguay captain Paolo Montero did not know how to play football.

A more foolish comment would be hard to find. Montero seemed to be listening, and retaliated by scoring the only goal of the game.

Montero's reputation suffers from his hard man image, and especially from the number of times he has been sent off in Italian football. He holds the Serie A all-time red card record.

But the image belies the man. In the modern game being sent off is a defender's occupational hazard. If he has been sent off so often it is because he has been selected so many times.

Juventus know a thing or two about defending, and the fact that he has spent a decade with the club shows that there is more to Montero than meets the ignorant eye.

Uruguay's captain consistently gives a masterclass in the art of defending.

He can control the situation without having the ball, forcing the attacker down blind alleys, putting doubt in his mind, winning the tackle and then starting his side's moves with his superb left-footed passing.

In the manner of former Argentina captain Daniel Passarella, he is a wonderfully talented and intelligent footballer who is also prepared to be as hard as it takes.

Now 33, Montero is no longer a regular in the Juventus first team, but at international level his value is as clear as ever.

Uruguay began the current World Cup qualification campaign with coach Juan Ramon Carrasco's ultra-attacking approach. Carrasco made one huge blunder.

Perhaps afraid of Montero's influence in the dressing-room, he chose not to select the veteran defender.

Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati
Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati picked Montero immediately

Current coach Jorge Fossati has been more sensible, and the numbers speak for themselves. With 12 rounds played Uruguay have the worst defensive record in the field.

In the nine games where Montero was absent they conceded 23 goals. In the three games that he has played they have only conceded one.

His big test comes this Wednesday, when Uruguay host Brazil. Uruguay's position in the table means that they might have to take risks.

Brazil's forward line have been short of goals of late, and they would love to answer their critics with a convincing performance - especially as Brazil have not won away to Uruguay since 1976, when a young man called Zico scored the winning goal on his senior international debut.

Montero managed to hold off Zico's successors last year in the semi-final of the Copa America, an evenly contested game finishing 1-1 before Brazil won on penalties.

That time, though, he was up against the reserve attack of Adriano and Luis Fabiano. Now he faces Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and perhaps Robinho as well. If they click there could be fires to put out across the entire width of the pitch.

Montero will use skill and steel to try to put them out. And if he really plays a blinder he might even win a bit of respect from 'expert' summarisers on Brazilian TV.





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