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Recoba's rebirth

Inter forward promises great things for Uruguay

Posted: Wednesday April 24, 2002 11:32 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) -- 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.

"Il Chino," as he is known for his slender face and small eyes, seemed destined to watch the World Cup finals from home as Uruguay struggled to qualify for its first finals in 12 years.

But by October, his life took a dramatic upturn as his ban was cut to four months, allowing him to return in November.

He returned to the national side in time for its 3-0 second-leg victory over Australia in a playoff to decide the 32nd and final berth for the World Cup.

Back in Italy, he has also gone from strength to strength -- and recently scored four times in two games to send Inter back to the top of Serie A.

Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport labeled him a "hero."

"I feel good -- soccer-wise and physically. Don't forget I went almost a year without playing, it's hard to get your rhythm back," Recoba told Uruguayan newspaper El Pais the day after he put two goals past defending Italian champion AS Roma.

Jekyl and Hyde

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.

FULL STORY

Recoba's revival has given Uruguay's 3 million soccer-mad fans a reason to start dreaming again.

Quick-thinking, mobile and technically gifted, the 26-year-old Recoba is Uruguay's biggest star. He possesses a cultured left foot which is comfortable rifling in set pieces or carving open opposition defenses with incisive passes.

Recoba burst on the scene as a 16-year-old in 1993 for Montevideo side Danubio. Over the next four years he scored 52 goals in 58 games, moved to Uruguayan giant Nacional and then to Inter for US$4.5 million.

In Italy, he made a perfect start.

Making his debut the same day as Brazilian superstar Ronaldo, it was the little known Uruguayan who stole the headlines, grabbing two goals in 20 minutes to help Inter beat Brescia 2-1.

But the next few years were not always so smooth.

In and out of the lineup, Recoba won the UEFA Cup with Internazionale in 1998, but was loaned to Venezia in January 1999 before returning to Milan that August.

Things picked up again as Recoba netted 18 goals in 56 games over the next 18 months.

Inter then signed him to a five-year contract worth US$7.2 million per year, making him the world's best paid player at the time.


 
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