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Jekyl-and-Hyde

Uruguay's skipper Montero set for world stage

Posted: Wednesday April 24, 2002 11:31 AM

12-year drought

Uruguay, the smallest country ever to win a World Cup, has finally emerged from a decade of soccer mediocrity.

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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) -- Off the field, Uruguay captain Paolo Montero is said to be a friendly, loyal kind of guy.

Yet put Montero onto a soccer pitch and he turns into a tough, sometimes brutal defender.

In nine seasons in Italy's top flight, first with Atlanta and since 1997 with Juventus, Montero has been sent off no fewer than 15 times -- and not just for the odd poorly timed tackle.

There was, for example, the league match in May 2000, when Montero sank a clean right hook into Internazionale's Luigi Di Biagio, earning himself a three match ban.

Another time he slapped Lecce goalie Antonio Chimenti in the face, sparking a huge brawl.

Yet despite his hot temper, Montero also has a reputation of being one of the game's top defenders.

"A great player capable of keeping an entire defense in check," says AS Roma's Argentine defender Walter Samuel. "A true pro," glows Frenchman Zinedine Zidane.

The son of a former Uruguay international, Montero started his career at Uruguay's Penarol, under the watchful eye of former Argentina World Cup-winning coach Cesar Menotti.

At Penarol, Montero won his first league title and soon became the key man in the side's tight and gritty defense.

In 1992, Marcelo Lippi, later his coach at Juventus, signed him for northern Italian side Atlanta.

The Uruguayan struggled at first, appearing over-reliant on his rough tackling and lacking composure on the ball.

But during his five years at the club, his game improved enormously.

Recoba's rebirth

Uruguayan playmaker Alvaro Recoba has had a strange year. The highly regarded Internazionale forward was sidelined by his struggling Italian club at the end of last season. In June, he was banned from playing club soccer for a year in a passport scandal that rocked European soccer.

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In 1997, when Juventus bought him to replace the aging Pietro Viechowod in the "Old Lady's" back four, he was rated as one of the most accomplished defenders around -- a fast, brave and technically gifted player who had learned to pass well and could fit into any number of defensive positions.

Since then, Montero has won the Italian league title, played in two European Champions League finals and starred as Juventus won the 1997 Intercontinental Cup final.

In 1997, he captained Uruguay's national team -- a role he excels at -- providing a side that under his guidance conceded just 15 goals in 20 games in the 2002 qualifying campaign as Uruguay qualified for its first World Cup finals in 12 years.

Still, until now, Montero's international career has been capped with disappointment.

He missed out on his country's Copa America triumph in 1995 through injury and was in the side that just failed to qualify for the 1998 finals.

Now, Montero, who has played 46 games for his country, hopes to cap his career by shutting out the French, Danish and Senegalese attacks in this year's World Cup finals.

If he succeeds, he could be leading Uruguay past the first round for the first time in 26 years.


 
Related information
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World Soccer: Q & A with Uruguay coach Pua
Recoba rebirth promises big things for Uruguay
Uruguay returns to big show after 12-year drought
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World Cup Spotlight on Uruguay
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