“If he’s on top form, this team could go far. And I really hope they do.” These were the words of Pablo Forlan, the former Uruguay international who now follows the performances of La Celeste from the stands. The passion Forlan displayed for his country in his playing days is undiminished, but with a twist, for as that quote suggests he now has an additional reason to hope that the national team exceed expectations at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Father of Diego, one of Uruguay’s key players, Pablo understandably derives great pleasure and pride from seeing his son put opposing defences under pressure. The feeling of admiration is mutual, according to Forlan Jnr: “My father had the opportunity to play in two World Cups, in 1966 and 1974. It’s a real source of pride.”
FIFA.com managed to grab a few minutes for an exclusive chat with Forlan Jnr, the striker on whom Uruguayan hopes would appear to rest.
While in Korea/Japan 2002, he was new to the international stage, this time around Forlan finds himself in a starring role. “Well, the years have flown by for everyone, but this time it's my turn to be one of the older heads. I’ll enjoy myself just like I did at my last World Cup, but I’m able to approach it with a bit more experience under my belt,” he said, humbly sidestepping the suggesting that he is any more important than the other Uruguay players.
Forlan clearly believes in the collective strength of the squad, to the extent that, when asked if the team still needs to improve before the tournament begins, his response was blunt. “There is nothing to improve," he said. "We’ve got a great bunch of footballers who all get on very well together.”
It all starts now
He also gives short shrift to the idea that the way Uruguay qualified for South Africa 2010 – via a two-legged play-off against Costa Rica – is in any way relevant. "It doesn’t matter how we got here, what’s important is that we are here now, at the World Cup," he said. "We’re not worried about the ghosts of matches past. We knew that the two games would be tough, but that our qualifying chances were in our own hands."
Similarly, Forlan does not read anything into the fact that their opponents on Friday, France, also had trouble securing their place at FIFA’s flagship tournament. “How they qualified isn’t significant either – they have some excellent players, and it’s going to be a very difficult match,” he adds.
In the short term, the two-time world champions’ objectives have widened. “We want to get past the group phase. After that, it’s knockout football, and in a one-off match, anything can happen,” is Forlan's view. Once it gets to that stage, the famous garra charrúa (Uruguayan fighting spirit) will no doubt come into play. Forlan offers a more finely-tuned definition of the phrase. “When people talk about garra charrúa, sometimes they misinterpret it to mean ‘playing hard’. But that’s not really it. It means to focus solely on winning – nothing else matters.”
A reminder of this never-say-die attitude can be found in the four stars embroidered above the crest on the players’ jerseys, symbols of their two FIFA World Cups and two Olympic golds. “Uruguayan football has a rich history, marked by great victories, trophies and accomplishments," acknowledged Forlan. "Now it’s our turn to leave an impression on a World Cup. And even though we know it won’t be easy, we’re very hopeful."
It would certainly be a fitting year for the South American nation to do well, 60 years on from the legendary Maracanazo defeat of Brazil, and 80 years after the first-ever FIFA World Cup was held on Uruguayan soil.
Double the danger
La Celeste’s prolific No 10 has amassed 24 goals in the international arena, the second of which came in his only appearance at Korea/Japan 2002 against Senegal. Eight years down the line, he still has bittersweet memories of that day: “It was an unusual match. We hadn’t played well in the first half; we were losing 3-0 at the break. I was then brought on for the second half. Amazingly, we fought back and drew level. I was fortunate to score a special goal, and we came extremely close to making it to the next round.”
The Atletico Madrid hotshot is now the national team’s figurehead and, together with Luis Suarez, forms one of the most feared striking partnerships of this upcoming FIFA World Cup. Both are in great form too, and will be looking to build on their already strong relationship. “We get on very well away from football, and that is reflected on the pitch,” said Forlan.
Should the striking duo fire and La Celeste reach the Round of 16, Diego will have matched the achievements of his father’s generation, and the name Forlan will once again have written an exciting new chapter in the history of Uruguayan football.