Uruguay’s triumph in the 1995 Copa America is a landmark achievement in the nation’s football history. That success on home soil is La Celeste’s last major title to date, and was achieved by a side containing several dead-ball specialists, such as Enzo Francescoli, Pablo Bengoechea and Daniel Fonseca, who scored the hosts’ first goal in that competition.
Tacuarembo, some 390 kilometres from Montevideo, was just one of the towns around the country where young boys dreamed of emulating Francescoli and Co. Among those aspiring youngsters was Adrian Luna, who has since gone on to become the top scorer of the country’s U-20 side and is now represented by none other than Fonseca.
“I’ve loved football ever since I was young,” the Defensor Sporting striker tells FIFA.com, explaining his long-held passion for the game. “And like every other boy, I used to go and kick about with my friends.”
A set-piece specialist
In doing so, he developed a rare gift for taking free-kicks. And now, 16 years on from Uruguay’s last major international trophy, he is aiming to fire Los Charrúas back to the top again at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, with the help of his set-piece skills. “I practice a lot,” he says. “I like to stay behind in training with my team-mates, just for fun, and take as many shots on goal as I can.”
Luna scored three goals at the recent South American qualifying competition, held in Peru earlier this year, all of them from free-kicks. Two came in the 4-0 rout of Chile, while his other strike against Colombia in the final phase proved to be a matchwinner and helped Uruguay clinch places at Colombia 2011 and the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
“Free-kicks are a very important part of football and can win games,” explains Luna, who describes himself as a different kind of specialist to set-piece experts Andrea Pirlo and Cristiano Ronaldo. “They strike the ball with their instep and make a very clean contact, which is something I try to do if I’m far out. But when I’m closer to goal I try and stay with the shot a little more, which takes a lot of concentration.”
Luna scored with one of his trademark dead-ball strikes against Spain at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, though he insists there is more to his game than his free-kick prowess: “I always try to picture games and I dream of scoring goals of all different types. I hope we don’t have to depend on set-pieces so much. It’s a valuable weapon, but we can’t afford to neglect other areas of our game.”
Though Luna dreamed of being a goalkeeper, he soon had to give up that ambition and try to make his way as a forward. “I loved flying through the air and rolling around on the ground, but the fact is I wasn’t tall enough to play in goal,” he says with a broad smile on his face. Having made such a success of things up front that a move to the Spanish top flight looks imminent, Uruguayan football should be happy Luna was persuaded to put down his gloves.
“I’m a deep-lying forward with a bit of pace and I like to move across the forward line and shoot on goal,” he adds, detailing his strong points, which have prompted Charrúa coach Juan Verzeri to liken him to Argentinian goalgetter Javier Saviola. “I think it’s the right comparison to make,” explains Verzeri. “Adrian is a very direct player who likes to get forward and make decisive diagonal runs. And as well as being a target man for us, he’s also a fantastic finisher.”
From the page to the pitch
Saviola set an all-time tournament scoring record of 11 goals in helping La Albiceleste to the world U-20 title back in 2001, but Luna is not setting himself such a lofty target at Colombia 2011 and is quick to play down comparisons. “I know what I have to offer to Uruguay but I’m not going to put myself up there with the big stars. I’ll leave that kind of judgment up to the journalists,” says Luna, who is, not surprisingly, a big admirer of national idol Diego Forlan, and an assiduous reader.
His latest reading material, recommended to him by Uruguay’s psychologist is The Four Agreements of Toltec Wisdom. And talking of wisdom, one thing Portugal, Cameroon and New Zealand, would be wise to do is keep a close eye on Luna and his ambitious team-mates when the action begins in Group B at Colombia 2011.
“We want to make history, just like we did in the South American Championship. Uruguay have never won an U-20 World Cup and we’d love to do it,” says Luna, whose searing runs and free-kicks might just inspire La Celeste to end a lengthy 16-year wait.