When you play for the Uruguayan national team, and above all when you play for the Uruguayan national team in a tournament like this at home, there is only one possible outcome: WIN.
Anything less than champions is unacceptable, so you can imagine the pressure that this group of players were under for the 1995 Copa America.
We Uruguayans are like this, although there’s only 3.5 million of us, when it comes to football, winning is the only option.
The road to the final
We kept on training, kept on going through each stage and we knew that sooner or later we would meet Brazil. We thought it would be best to meet them in the final and that’s what happened. It was a sunny winter’s day and the stadium was packed.
We left the pre-match meeting, and from our bus trip to the stadium (about half an hour) people were out on the street waving their flags and spurring us on. It was incredible to see the support we were getting and how we had mobilised Montevideo and the whole country.
It really gave you goose bumps, it was so heartening, and we knew we couldn’t let them down. But amongst all this, what I remember the most was when we were getting ready to get off the bus and our starting goalkeeper Fernando Alves said: “we have to win guys, otherwise the journey home’s going to be a bit rocky!”.
And he was right, I don’t know what would have happened if we had lost the final.
The final of the 1995 Copa América against Brazil
As I said, the stadium was full, 90 plus per cent of it was wearing baby blue, with just one corner taken up by Brazil’s fans. And it all got off to the worst possible start, with Brazil going ahead on the scoreboard and Tabaré Silva breaking his leg out on the left in the same phase of play.
We made a change and that’s when the crowd realised we needed their support. The crowd made itself heard at the start of the second half, it was incredible, they were willing us on to push for a draw and this came through Pablo Bengoechea’s unbelievable free kick.
The stadium erupted.
I remember getting separated from the celebration because Pablo took off towards the bench which was on the other side of the of the halfway line, meaning that if we all went over to celebrate, Brazil could have taken the kick off. I had another teammate with me, I can’t remember who, I must be getting old!
Penalties… and champions of the Americas!
At the end of regular time, we were locked together at one a piece, so it went straight to penalties. I never get tired of explaining how, if you’re not used to taking penalties, it’s so hard to take one under these circumstances, playing at home in a final for your national team.
Our technical assistant (my boyhood hero Fernando Morena) came over to me and told me that I was the sixth penalty taker if needed. I remember thinking “geez, that’s lucky”.
But that’s when the nerves really started to kick in, because you are stood still in the middle of the pitch and can’t do anything about it, you’re just depending on the kick takers and your keeper.
Luckily, we scored all 5: Enzo Francescoli, Pablo Bengoechea, Pepe Herrera, Álvaro Gutiérrez and Sergio Martinez. Our keeper, the genius Fernando Alves stopped their third penalty.
Imagine when ‘Manteca’ Martínez went up to take his penalty, if he scored, we were champions and that was that, but if he missed… IT WAS MY TURN!! I was praying he would score it so that I didn’t have to take mine.
You can celebrate winning titles in many different ways, but when you win something with your country, the feelings and emotions are so special. It involves everyone from your family, friends and associates to your colleagues and those at your club, and all of this makes you most proud.
I was lucky to be a part of the group that won the 1995 Copa America nearly 25 years ago. As we say in Uruguay… ¡DALE CAMPEÓN!