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Uruguay v South Korea

Uruguay's chance to return to the elite

June 26, 2010
By Michael Da Silva
(Archive)

In the bustling Uruguayan tourist trap of the Montevideo Port market, the name of one striker was brightening the day of the morning espresso drinkers and El Pais readers.

Uruguay
GettyImagesUruguay fans celebrate Mexico victory in a Montevideo bar.

Preview

No, not Luis Suarez, the man whose goal against Mexico ensured Uruguay's qualification as group winners, but Landon Donovan, the Californian whose 92nd minute strike against Algeria took USA through to face Ghana.

With that goal, the Los Angeles Galaxy forward has already achieved cult status in Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana, by providing them all with a similar advantage that USA can enjoy as group winners - a far less treacherous route to the semi-finals.

Rather than facing England in the quarter-finals, a game they would have entered as clear underdogs, Uruguay will face either Ghana or Landon Donovan's very own United States. As you can imagine, the mood in the Uruguayan capital is as bullish as in the American camp.

"It doesn't matter now who our next opponents are," striker Luis Suarez said on Tuesday. "We've got what it takes to keep progressing in the competition." Given their route to the semi-finals, who can argue with that?

While being far from semi-final shoe-ins, Uruguay are ready to make an impact in South Africa, provided they can negotiate the tricky South Koreans in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

With their free-flowing attacking play resulting in a 3-0 demolition of the hosts and a 1-0 win over an accomplished Mexico side, Uruguay are yet to concede a goal. And defensive midfielder Diego Perez, who plays for Monaco, has a lot to do with it. His 'safety first' attitude and vast experience in the holding role provides extra solidity to a watertight defence. Park Ji-Sung and co. will do very well to break them down.

"We watched a few of Uruguay's games, they have quality and they are strong and their performances were great in the group stages," Park said in the Daily Yomiuri. "We have to prepare well for that game."

Better sides than South Korea will score against Uruguay, such is their thirst to counter attack, but this is exactly what makes them so dangerous. Muscular defending and nifty attacking make Uruguay one of the most exciting teams in this tournament and, in Diego Forlan, they possess one of the deadliest strikers in the world.

Diego Forlan's form has been prolific in Europe since leaving Manchester United in 2004. With a goal ratio of more than one in two at club level for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, and 26 goals from 65 international appearances, Forlan is the man to spearhead Uruguay's return to the elite. But he is just delighted that they beat Mexico and have avoided South American rivals, Argentina.

"We respect them as they respect us, but as South Americans the further we get the better. If we have to face them further down the line we will do it happily, but for one of us to be eliminated in the last 16 is a waste," said Forlan, who started his professional career with Argentinean side Independiente.

"It's not because of fear, we know that we can win or lose, and they know the same, but because the more South American teams there are later on the better."

With the opposition that awaits Forlan, the Atletico Madrid striker will have his sights set on adding to the two goals that have made him a good early shout for the Golden Boot.

Since losing to Brazil in the semi finals of the 1970 World Cup, Uruguay have spent 40 years in the wilderness. But, with their side of the draw blown wide open by Landon Donovan's goal, they will never have a better chance of returning to the elite. And it would be long overdue.