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The Age

Resurgent Uruguay banishes pain of past

Author: By MICHAEL LYNCH, JOHANNESBURG
Date: 02/07/2010
Words: 539
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 6
NEARLY five years ago the bars and cafes, the houses and apartments of football-crazy Montevideo were in shock after Australia beat Uruguay in that famous penalty shoot-out in Sydney to ensure the Socceroos, not Los Celestes, were going to the 2006 World Cup.

As fantastic as that result was for Australia and the game in this country, the opposite was the case in Uruguay. The tiny South American nation, with a population of around three million (considerably less than Sydney or Melbourne), has always punched above its weight where football, specifically the World Cup, is concerned.

While few people know much about Uruguay's history, its social conditions or its culture, they certainly know about its record in the World Cup, which the country  sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina  has won twice.

So for Uruguayans that shoot-out defeat after a 1-0 loss at Homebush was a traumatic affair. After all, four years earlier, Uruguay had disposed of Australia in a similar play-off, losing 1-0 in Melbourne to a Kevin Muscat penalty before winning 3-0 in Montevideo to qualify for Korea-Japan 2002, and most Uruguayans had felt a similar outcome was on the cards in November 2005.

But that was then, this is now. And the boot is very much on the other foot.

As Australia crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage and departed South Africa a week ago, Uruguay was preparing for its round-of-16 game against South Korea. It duly beat the leading Asian nation 2-1 through a Luis Suarez brace, the winner one of the best goals so far seen at this tournament.

And now Oscar Tabarez's team is, in the early hours of tomorrow morning Melbourne time, preparing to face Africa's sole remaining representative, Ghana, for a place in the semi-finals. If it can succeed it will be the first time since Uruguay lost to the fabulous Brazil team of 1970 in Mexico that Los Celestes have made the World Cup's penultimate match.

It is a stunning turnaround in a five-year period, one which has restored the soccer pride to a nation that had in recent decades become used to, at best mediocrity, at worst failure. Uruguay's best since 1970 had been to reach the round of 16 in Italy in 1990. Los Celestes didn't even qualify in 1994 and 1998, condemning a generation of talented individuals to exclusion from the greatest football tournament of all.

Now Diego Forlan, although approaching veteran stage, is at the peak of his powers, scoring goals or acting as a midfield fulcrum, and is the creative force around which his team's attacking strategies revolve.

In Ajax Amsterdam striker Luis Suarez, Uruguay has unearthed a sharp-shooter of high quality. And at the back the two Diegos  captain Lugano and the rugged Godin  form a strong central defensive pairing at the heart of the team's rearguard.

Pride has been restored in large measure, and now the South Americans (one of four teams in the last eight from that part of the world) are only two wins away from a World Cup final.

They may still be long shots, but stranger things have happened.

GHANA

Kingson, Inkoom, Pantsil, Mensah (c), Vorsah, Sarpei, Annan, Asamoah, Appiah, Boateng, Gyan

URUGUAY

Muslera, Perreira, Lugano (c), Victorino, Fucile, Arevalo, Perez, Fernandez, Forlan, Suarez, Cavani.

 
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