There are not many players who can boast of scoring a goal a game against the mighty Brazil, but Uruguay's 32-year-old hitman Sebastian Abreu is one of them. The well-travelled forward, currently at Real Sociedad in Spain's second tier, has scored twice in two encounters with the five-time FIFA World Cup™ winners, as well as a cheeky penalty shootout kick in the style of Zinedine Zidane's opener in the Final of Germany 2006.
Shortly before the upcoming South American clásico that is Uruguay versus Brazil, which takes place on 6 June in Montevideo, Abreu spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his record against the Seleção, historic duels between the two national sides and the Celeste's mind games with their illustrious neighbours.
FIFA.com: Sebastian, you are back in Spanish football and thriving at the age of 32. How does it feel?
Sebastian Abreu: On a personal note, the verdict is very positive. I've scored ten goals in 17 games, which is a good rate, especially since I had very little time to adapt to such a competitive league. I'm happy, the social and financial situation is good and the people are very welcoming. I made the right decision.
And what about the Uruguayan national team?
We're doing well and this is because of a serious and long-term project like the one headed by El Maestro [Oscar] Tabarez. It's bearing fruit: the U-17 and U-20 sides qualified for their respective World Cups this year, something that doesn't happen often. And we're on the same track with good football, balance and new players. We've had plenty of praise and now we're aiming to avoid a play-off.
Uruguay have faced a play-off in the last two FIFA World Cup qualifying phases and are in a position to do so again. Do you feel that the finals are within reach?
We're closer [to automatic qualification] than in previous qualifying phases, though the table suggests otherwise. For the reasons I said before, the team are solid and have a good chance. That said, we've no room for slip-ups. We know that by winning every game we'll reach the play-off at the worst. That's why we have to play to win in all our remaining games.
Over the years, we've always been at our psychological peak when facing Brazil. That's key in football.
But Uruguay's next opponents on 6 June are Brazil...
If we look at the stats, Uruguay are always excellently prepared for these games. Over the years, we've always been at our psychological peak when facing Brazil. That's key in football. In the last game at the Morumbi (stadium in Sao Paulo), even though we lost (2-1), everybody said they'd never seen Uruguay play that way in Brazil. We also showed a lot of pride at the 2007 Copa America, when we twice came back to draw 2-2. If we can keep that going, sooner or later we'll beat them.
Why do Uruguay raise their game against Brazil?
It comes from our ancestors, who wore the Celeste shirt with pride. Brazilians are more technical, but temperament and pride also have a part to play. I've seen videos of past Uruguayan sides who never gave up, and we grew up with that. They instilled that in us. Uruguayans are like Argentinians in that respect, though we've a lower profile.
You have done particularly well against Brazil, isn't that correct?
Yes, I played twice against them and found the net three times. I scored the opening goal at the Morumbi, got the equaliser in the Copa America semi-final and later scored in the shootout. But they don't motivate me more. I'm just thrilled to pull on the Celeste jersey, anything else is a bonus.
About that Copa America, why did you start crying after your equaliser?
I dropped to my knees and couldn't hold back the tears because images of my childhood flashed before my eyes. When I played with my mates I always used to pretend to score against Brazil. Remembering all that at that moment was really intense.
So, could that happen again?
I don't know. If I score, the most important thing will be to celebrate with the whole group. The subs, the coaching staff, the assistants, everybody. This is how I see football now I've matured, but I was overcome by emotion that night in Venezuela.
Why did you chip your penalty in the shootout?
It's not something you prepare beforehand, you decide in the moment. You have to analyse the keeper's state of mind and the game itself. It's not the same doing it ten minutes into a match as in a shootout. In any case, the adrenaline comes from seeing the ball hit the net, however you do it.
There are those who say Brazil never hit top gear during qualifying. Would you agree?
I don't think that's the case. Nowadays, they know they have to do more to stay in the top spots. Even their coach has been under-fire. Going back to the game we played in the Morumbi, playing like we did against them we'd win nine out of ten games but they still beat us.
I couldn't hold back the tears because images of my childhood flashed
before my eyes. When I played with my mates I always used to pretend to
score against Brazil.
Would claiming all three points be a vital morale boost?
Definitely, it would mean we'd beaten a strong, direct rival and picked up three points a lot of people don't think we'll get. But it wouldn't do any good if we didn't then win in Venezuela (on 10 June).
Brazil fans will remember Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, who is suspended for this game, from his time at Sao Paulo. How much will you miss him?
Every player makes a different contribution. In this case we're talking about our captain and a man who the Brazilians respect. But we have players who are capable of coming in and making light of these absences. For example, our outstanding player is Diego Forlan but we even managed to replace him when he was absent. We hope that will happen this time too.
In a previous interview, you told us that if you could be a part of any Uruguayan side you'd join the 1950 FIFA World Cup-winning team. Do you still feel that way?
Of course! Given the way that came about, it would have been a lovely thing to experience. A goal down in front of 200,000 Brazilian fans and knowing that a draw would crown Brazil champions, they stuck out their chests and turned the game around. I don't think anything like that will ever happen again. If I had a time machine I'd go and see that match, even as just as a spectator. They made Uruguay what it is today.