The first division championship was a carbon copy of many, many other Uruguayan championships. The same as ever – Penarol and Nacional competed with each other and the rest of the league was bellow the grands. The enlargement of the league for a second year meant no direct relegation, but participation in the promotion/relegation play-off of the lowest team and 2nd and 3rd from second division. The question, however, was which club was the lowest… three teams finished at the bottom with 17 points: Rentistas, Liverpool, and Danubio. Goal-difference decided their final places. Danubio took 11th place.
Rentistas finished 13th and last. They tried as much as they could, but won measly 3 matches, tied 11, and lost 10. Had the worst goal record in the league: 16-36. Rentistas scored the least goals and had most ties. Nothing to be proud of – last place meant relegation… elsewhere. In Uruguay – may be. Rentistas was save for another season – Liverpool, a place above in the final table, went to the dreadful play-off and were eventually relegated.
Those three were at the bottom, but really 11 teams of the division fought largely between themselves for a better or worse position.
Huracan Buceo finished 6th which was great for them. They lost 10 matches – the most in the upper half of the table, but thanks to better goal-difference ended well. Their goal-difference was 23-23, which was the 5th best in the league: only 4 clubs finished with positive record! Scoring was not the strong point of the bulk of the league: Bella Vista, 8th in the final table, scored most goals among the bulk – 33 in 24 championship games. Only one other club managed 30 goals – Defensor.
Defensor continued their strong years. Their sensational victory in 1976 made them the 4th most successful club in Uruguay – it was Defensor’s first title, but since the first championship was organized in 1900 only 3 clubs won titles. Wanderers had a total of three, the last won in 1931. Defensor not only became the 4th title winner ever, but the most recent one disturbing the duopoly of Nacional and Penarol. Finishing 4th three years after their winning year meant the club was keeping strong team and holding their place. Kind of… they were no potential title contenders and not really above the rest of league. But steady and after the end of the season their was reward for that.
Defensor finished with 26 points, but were bested by a point by the club sharing the second-best defensive record this season: Fenix.
Bronze medals for Fenix! Excellent season for a club with such a name and colours (violet – representing eternity, and white – purity). This was perhaps their greatest season since foundation in 1916. The club from Capurro more often played second division football – and their titles to this very day are only from winning second division. By 1979 they had 4 – the most recent one was from 1977, meaning they played only a second first division season since their latest promotion. One has to appreciate the bronze medals in the light of that: Fenix, historically, were not even regular first division members. On the pitch they were hardly exciting team – their record suggest stubborn defensive approach: they shared the second-best defensive record in the league, permitting only 18 goals in their net. Not bad, since 10 clubs received 20 or more goals. As for attack… it was not their forte: 23 goals in 24 matches. Less than a goal per match average. 8 clubs scored more. Huracan Buceo scored also 23. Only the bottom three clubs scored less. Yet, Fenix won 10 matches with their brand of football – only two clubs won more games. Apart from Nacional and Penarol, Fenix was the only Uruguayan team winning two-digit number of games in 1979.
As for the 3rd most successful Uruguayan club, Wanderers finished exactly in the middle of the league – 7th.
Clearly, the league was not impressive – which left the two biggest clubs to fight apart from all others. As ever… The 1970s were lean years for Uruguayan football, players were leaving the country in mass, money were short, political problems of the country affected football, yet, big club are big even when the scale is small and low. Penarol and Nacional together lost less matches than Fenix. Even if only their victories brought points they would have finished way ahead of all others. As it was, Fenix was a very distant 3rd – 11 points behind the 2nd. In short, even when Uruguayan football was in dire straits, Penarol and Nacional were still in separate category , head and shoulders above all others. In their own world, the big clubs experienced their own drama, highs and lows – the strong years of Nacional finished in 1972. After that Penarol was seemingly in much better shape, winning the titles in 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1978. And nothing changed in 1979: Nacional was still shaky and weaker. They won 17 matches, tied 4, lost 3. They shared the second-best defensive record with Fenix – 18 goals – but outscored everybody else: 53 goals. The only club scoring more than 50 goals – a signal, that they were coming back, but were not ready yet.
Silver means nothing to Nacional – only gold counts, but with a team like that silver was quite right. Two established stars, yet, not really big stars – Rodolfo Rodriguez and Denis Milar, plus two up and coming stars – Hugo de Leon and Waldemar Victorino. Compared to the players the rest of the league had, the supremacy of Nacional was obvious. But it was not exceptional squad at all and not ready yet for more.
Penarol had relatively easy year with opponent like current Nacional. 19 wins, 3 ties, and only 2 matches lost. 47 goals was the second-best offensive record in the league, but their defense was much better than any other, allowing 12 goals – 1 goal per 2 games average. All that meant one more title for Penarol, leaving Nacioanl 3 points behind.
First row: Ernesto Vargas, Mario Saralegui, Ruben Paz, Ildo Maneiro, Venancio Ramos.
And the squad tells why they were winning – it was the best in the country by far. Even without the biggest Uruguayan star of the 1970s Fernando Morena, who left the club to play in Spain for Rayo Vallecano. Alvez rivaled Rodolfo Rodriguez – neither was a truly great goalkeeper, but they were the best at the time. Walter Olivera was the big star with many years ahead of him. Diogo, Saralegui, and Paz were the younger stars, rapidly establishing themselves as leading players. Overall, stronger team than Nacional’s and more important it was relatively young, but experienced squad. If the club was able to keep the players… and succeed internationally… Penarol may have restored the tarnished reputation of Uruguayan football. But… there was immediate obstacle. Penarol were champions, yet, they were not going to represent Uruguay in Copa Libertadores. There is no clear reason for that – the only possibility is that combined record of two or more season was applied – which should have benefited Penarol too. Strangely, the Uruguayan representatives for 1980 Copa Libertadores were Nacional and Defensor. The champions were left out.