Tuesday 24 August 2021, 21:00

Alejandro Guerrero, Uruguay's unlikely goal hero

  • The goalkeeper scored the winning goal against Portugal

  • La Celeste now face Switzerland in the quarter-finals of Russia 2021

  • The Uruguayan chats about that goal, sacrifices made and the next challenge

Even in beach soccer, where keepers tend to participate in open play a lot more, you expect them to stand out for their saves and adroit footwork more than for scoring goals.

However, Alejandro Guerrero proved the exception yesterday, emerging as Uruguay’s hero at Russia 2021 by scoring the goal that put defending champions Portugal on an early flight home and La Celeste through to the last eight.

"I don't see it like that; all of us here are heroes," the keeper told FIFA.com after the game, still in his yellow No.12 jersey. "We sacrificed a great deal and had a lot of difficulties because of the pandemic, as did everyone. I just do my job, which is to stop shots," he said modestly.

Guerrero talked us through his goal, dedicated to his daughter Josefina and pregnant wife back home, from a free-kick near his own area that would seal an incredible 7-6 win.

"When I have a free-kick around there, I usually play it short to a team-mate. But Gaston Laduche came up to me and said 'hit it so it bounces up to complicate things for them’. And that’s exactly what happened: it bounced up, veered off to the right and went in. It was a stroke of luck," added the 34-year-old custodian, currently featuring at his second World Cup after debuting at Paraguay 2019.

His team-mate Lucas Quinta, who happened to walk by, could not disguise his contentment. Author of a hat-trick against the Portuguese and his side’s top scorer in Russia with four goals, he offered this take on Guerrero’s strike: "That’s beach soccer for you – you hit a weak shot and it goes it in!" he said with a hearty laugh.

"The truth is that Ale saved everything. He’s a pillar of the team and deserves the plaudits given to him today," Quinta added.

And while the goalkeeper was not expecting to score against the defending champions, he was not surprised it was such an evenly matched contest. "We knew how they played and how important it was to contain the Martins brothers, who for me have been the best players of the tournament so far. The aim was always to get to the third period [still in contention], and it worked out perfectly."

UBER driver and goalkeeper

That goal was a fitting recompense for Guerrero, who has been playing on sand for five years now. "In 2016 I was let go by River Plate (of Montevideo) and I couldn’t find a club. For a while I playing in the interior until I was invited to try out [for beach soccer], and I really liked it," he said.

"It’s not easy to get players to make that transition, because the discipline is still establishing itself in Uruguay and requires you to make sacrifices. With the exception of those playing in Europe, no one can make a living from the sport," he said.

"I’m a UBER driver, which lets me make time to attend practice and tournaments. But others have had to leave aside studies or ask for time off work to be able to play it."

For all that, Guerrero remains optimistic about the future of the sport in his homeland. "The Uruguayan Football Association is expanding, the development is noticeable and there is support available.

"I hope that we’ll have a training pitch soon, although the pandemic has made everything more difficult. Also the clubs need encouragement and to get involved more in beach soccer to see if the next generation of players can make a living from this."

lejandro Guerrero and Andres Laens of Uruguay save a shot from Pedro Marques

What the team have achieved here in Russia can only help promote the specialty, and they are clearly not finished yet. "We’re never considered title contenders, but now we’re in the mix here. We know that Switzerland will be at least as difficult as Portugal – not for nothing did they beat Brazil."

For Guerrero, the morale boost from eliminating the champions will be key. "We took a lot of confidence from that, especially after the hammering Senegal gave us. But Uruguay are like that; many times we raise our game to the level of our opponents.

Asked to expand on that, the keeper said: "We’ve lost against teams that we didn’t expect to beat us, and defeated teams that, tactically and technically, were superior to us. Our 'garra charrúa’ (Uruguayan grit) allows us to rise to the occasion, and this time will be no different."