Ex-Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa is hailed by Lionel Messi after huge Uruguay win over Argentina
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Ex-Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa's influence on Uruguay was hailed by none other than Lionel Messi after La Celeste stunned world champions Argentina at the Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires on Thursday night.
Uruguay claimed a 2-0 win with goals in either half from Ronald Araujo and Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez as Bielsa's side moved second in the CONMEBOL 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying table. Given there are just 10 teams in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, every nation plays each other twice in qualifying as they are grouped in a 10-team table.
Bielsa was appointed by Uruguay with the aim of securing a place at the next World Cup in Canada, United States and Mexico. Uruguay are just two points off leaders Argentina who have won four of their first five games. Uruguay have won three of their first five qualifying matches, drawing one and losing the other. One of those wins included a 2-0 victory over Brazil last month.
Argentina enjoyed much more of the ball but could only muster three shots on target as Uruguay handed them their first loss since they were beaten 2-1 by Saudi Arabia on their way to winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup just over 12 months ago. Araujo fired home after 41 minutes to give the visitors the lead. Matias Vina worked hard to win the ball back and played it back across goal for Araujo to slot past Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez from a somewhat difficult angle.
With 87 minutes gone, Nunez sealed victory for Uruguay as he was played through by Nicolas de la Cruz. The Liverpool striker sprinted from the halfway line and outpaced former Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi before keeping his cool and firing through the legs of Martinez from 12 yards out. It was Uruguay's second shot on target of the night, as they produced a clinical display to boost their qualification hopes.
After the game, 2023 Balon D'or winner Messi hailed the influence Bielsa has had on Uruguay in such a short space of time.
"You can see Bielsa's hand on the way Uruguay is playing," said Messi, who hails from Rosario, the same city of which Bielsa is native to. "In all the national teams or clubs, including Argentina, his style was very recognizable. And he has a good generation of players [in Uruguay]."
Bielsa is fondly remembered at Leeds after guiding the club back into the Premier League and earning a ninth-place finish in his first top-flight season in England. His influence as a manager is currently highlighted by the international resurgence of Nunez. The Liverpool striker has been ridiculed relentlessly at times since moving to Anfield for some of his skewered chances but he has started to shine for club and country.
He had scored just twice in 15 international games before Bielsa's arrival, but now has three goals and three assists in his last five qualifying games as he also scored in the 2-0 win over Brazil last month as well as in a 2-2 draw with Colombia. Speaking earlier this season, Nunez credited the former Leeds boss with his improvement this campaign.
He said in August after scoring a brace for 10-man Liverpool against Newcastle United: "I had a chat with Bielsa over Zoom. Bielsa showed me some of my games things and corrected some things that seem positive to improve. He tells me to run behind the second centre-back so they lose my position. It was a very good talk. He seemed like a good guy to me and a serious guy."