Uruguay may not be the most eye-catching team in terms of their attacking football at this FIFA World Cup™ but if one player symbolises their spirit it is defensive midfielder Diego Perez.
The 30-year-old Monaco hardman illustrated this perfectly when he shed blood for the two-time world champions in their final Group A match against Mexico – a 1-0 win which ensured them first place in the standings. An aerial challenge caused his departure from the field with his face and shirt bloodied yet Perez was back minutes later with his head bandaged and then, at half-time, had three stitches inserted in his right eyebrow.
If the 5ft 10in Perez was left sporting a black eye, it was only further evidence of his bravery and determination to challenge the tallest of players for headers, earning him the sobriquet 'Mr Courageous' from Uruguayan daily El Pais. That newspaper's admiration for him evidently knows no bounds given that he subsequently received a 9/10 rating for his performance in the Round of 16 match with Korea Republic last Saturday when the South Americans won 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1970.
In the last 15 minutes, we dug into previously undiscovered reserves of energy so that we could create some chances.
Perez, who despite pushing his tackles to the limit has yet to be booked, earned the corner that led to Luis Suarez's stunning winner but admitted that even his energy levels had been taxed to the limit in the pouring rain in Port Elizabeth. "In the last 15 minutes, we dug into previously undiscovered reserves of energy so that we could create some chances," said Perez, who has not always been a first choice at Monaco since joining from Montevideo club Penarol in 2004.
Perez – capped 54 times but playing at his first FIFA World Cup finals – admitted that the Uruguayans would have to raise their level of performance against Africa's sole remaining representatives, Ghana, in Friday's quarter-final at Soccer City in Johannesburg. "We really suffered [against the Koreans], we really had a lot of problems and it is imperative that we improve a lot if we are to qualify for the semi-finals," said Perez. "Chief among our priorities is keeping possession of the ball and not giving it away cheaply." His job will be to keep on protecting his defence and given they have conceded only one goal to date, more of the same should do just fine.