Fede Valverde will forever remember March 24th 2023. This was the day that the 24-year-old captained Uruguay for the first time, taking the armband to lead out a fairly inexperienced side at the Japan National Stadium. Without Diego Godín, Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, José María Giménez or Fernando Muslera, there was doubt over who’d be the captain of the Celeste in this Kirin Challenge Cup friendly against Japan, but caretaker coach Marcelo Broli ultimately opted for Valverde. Not only that, but the midfielder scored his side’s goal in what ended up as a 1-1 draw.
The truth is that few others will remember this game, a dull affair played out in the torrential Tokyo rain. But, Valverde produced one moment of magic in the first half to put his side ahead on the scoreboard.
After requiring treatment on the half hour mark, when his marker landed on the Real Madrid man’s heel following an attempt at a volley, Valverde shook off that knock and stayed on the pitch. Just a few minutes later, in the 37th tick of the clock, he opened the scoring by firing a half-volley off the crossbar and then reacting quicker than everyone else to race into the box and head in the rebound from his own strike. That was his fifth goal in 48 caps for his country.
Valverde was playing as the No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 and didn’t have much space at all in the second half, as Japan improved and crowded him out. The Uruguayan is at his best when able to use his power and pace to drive forward into space, but there just wasn’t any of it. Even still, he did manage play a couple of nice passes into the box when Uruguay had space on the counter, with Valverde playing the full 90 minutes.
Japan were much better in the second period and, after the referee went to the VAR screen to ultimately wave away a penalty appeal from the hosts, with Manuel Ugarte deemed to have got the ball, the Samurai Blue did eventually equalise when substitute Takuma Nishimura turned in a Junya Ito cross moments after coming on.
Uruguay are now staying in Asia and will face South Korea next, taking them on in Seoul this Tuesday.