Maximiliano Pereira brings many attributes to Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay side. The attacking options he offers down the right have been a feature of La Celeste’s surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, not to mention his commitment and goalscoring ability, a facet he demonstrated late on against the Netherlands last Tuesday.
A versatile performer capable of playing at right-back or on the right side of midfield, and equally adept at getting forward in both positions, Pereira has quietly established himself as an undisputed first-choice player under Tabarez. In fact El Mono (The Monkey) is one of only three Uruguay players to play every single minute of their South Africa campaign to date (570 in all), the other two being goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and central midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios.
On top of that, the Benfica man has also covered more distance during the course of the tournament than any of his team-mates, clocking up 66 kilometres in their six games.
A bittersweet experience
The indefatigable 26-year-old was full of running against the Dutch and capped his 43rd appearance for his country with his first international goal. Sadly for Los Charrúas, Maxi’s sweet stoppage-time strike came too late to influence the outcome.
"It’s still a bit difficult to assess it all," he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, attempting to take stock of his side’s efforts in South Africa. "The fact we didn’t reach our objective of making the Final still hurts. That’s something we’re going to remember now, along with the great World Cup we’ve had. All the same we should be happy, even if we’re never going to forget that little last step we couldn’t quite take."
Memories of the 3-2 defeat to the Dutch are still fresh in his mind. "It was a horrible feeling," he explained. "We came so close to reaching a World Cup final that the pain’s going to last for a while yet. We lost a tight game against a side with many collective and individual strengths, and the only difference between us was that they scored at the right times. We lost our shape and after the third goal it was very difficult for us to come back."
One consolation for Pereira is that he and his colleagues are now an integral part of Uruguay’s rich footballing tradition: "This side is going to take an important place in our history. We didn’t match the champions of 1930 and 1950, but it’s been 40 years since Uruguay were last in the semi-finals of the World Cup. I know we didn’t make that last step but we did achieve something."
Uruguay’s next goal is to get past Germany on Saturday and claim third place, a task that will not be easy according to their right-sided utility man. "Like the Netherlands they are another dynamic side with players who are comfortable on the ball and very well organised," he concluded. "We’ll be doing all we can to win, though. There’s a difference between coming fourth and third and we want to finish as high as possible. It would be a good achievement to go home with a medal, and I hope we can do it for ourselves and for the people."