“Jump! Jump! Anyone not jumping isn’t going to the World Cup!” was the chant going around Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario on Wednesday 18 November, where fans and players alike were celebrating Uruguay’s passage to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. La Celeste had emerged victorious 2-1 on aggregate against Costa Rica after a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the second leg.
“This has been a very tough tie and this match underlined that,” said coach Oscar Tabarez, whose charges were the final team to clinch a place in South Africa 2010. And so, just as in the 2002 and 2006 preliminary events, Los Charrúas were the last nation on Planet Football to decide their FIFA World Cup finals fate.
“Costa Rica played really well and were one goal short of qualifying. Fortunately it was us who made it through. Anyway, what matters is that we achieved the objective we’d set at the start of the campaign. Now we’ll have time to work on what needs improving. How you do it doesn’t matter, what counts is that we’re among the 32 teams going to the World Cup,” concluded Tabarez, who also guided Uruguay at Italy 1990.
Diego Forlan, who along with Diego Perez and Sebastian Abreu remains from the squad which reached Korea/Japan 2002, had this to say: “We were made to suffer, but we’re so happy now. We struggled to get the ball in the net, we couldn’t keep a clear head at key times. But it’s done now, I dreamed of this moment and I’m enjoying it to the full.”
Nose for goal
And it was evergreen goalgetter ‘El Loco’ Abreu who turned out to be the hero in Montevideo. The well-travelled front-man, currently in the Greek top flight with Aris Saloniki, joined the fray after 65 minutes to replace Ajax starlet Luis Suarez and within five minutes had headed his side’s opener – the goal that clinched qualification.
“Nothing could be better than this: my country, my people. This is for the whole of Uruguay. Now I can die happy. The goal was a blessing from the Lord, it was priceless,” said Abreu while still on the field of play.
“In the future, my sons will be able to see where their father’s been. Once they turn seven they'll laugh when they see how everyone was applauding their dad,” he added, referring to the camcorder in his hand, which he uses to record his finest moments for posterity.
“Our desire and hunger won us the game. The away goal (scored in Saturday’s 1-0 win) helped us control the game, though we were clinging on a bit at the end. That’s always the way with us, it just makes the celebrations better!”
The squad’s second-highest goalscorer with five strikes since the start of South Africa 2010 qualifying, El Loco has already set his sights on next June’s global showpiece: “The mentality of Uruguayan football goes all the way back to the golden era when we were the first American, Olympic and world champions. I don’t know if we can match the feats of those phenomenal players, but we’re certainly capable of giving our fans something to cheer about.”
And as he prepares to finally head back down the tunnel towards the dressing room, how does this footballing nomad rate his chances of being involved next summer? “Fingers crossed I’ll be there. From now on, I’m going to do everything in my power to try and be part of this squad at the World Cup. Nothing can compare to wearing this shirt.”