Already recognised one of the finest finishers in the game today, Diego Forlan has merely bolstered his reputation at South Africa 2010.

The Uruguay striker is the touchstone of a solid and tightly knit team that has surprised most observers by checking into the semi-finals, where they face the Netherlands. Forlan has made a huge contribution to that run, scoring three goals along with strike partner Luis Suarez, the last of them a swerving free-kick that brought the South Americans level against Ghana in last Friday’s quarter-final.

Breaking off from his preparations to face the Dutch, the free-scoring Forlan spoke exclusively to FIFA about their dramatic win over the Black Stars and his expectations for Tuesday’s big game.

FIFA: Diego, the Netherlands are up next. What lessons from the Ghana match can you take into the semi-final?
Diego Forlan: We started well and we had a definite gameplan. But then we began giving the ball away and tried to play them at their own game, which we shouldn’t have done. The good thing is we managed to pick ourselves up from their goal at the end of the first half. That was a real blow and it was good to fight back.

You were just a penalty kick away from going out in extra time. What was going through your head then?
The idea of having worked so hard only to go out in the 120th minute was too much to bear. I buried my head in my shirt because I honestly thought we were out. Then, when I saw the ball hit the crossbar I couldn’t believe it, and even less so when I saw it drop behind the goal.

We know people are getting really caught up in it, especially the youngsters, who’ve never seen Uruguay go this far.

Uruguay's Diego Forlan

The incident that led to the penalty was a controversial one, of course. How is your team-mate Luis Suarez?
He’s happy because he helped the team but sad at missing out on the semi-final. Both he and Jorge [Fucile] reacted instinctively on the line and they knew they’d be sent off if they handled the ball. At the end of the day Luis gave us another chance and we took it.

How do you go about preparing for a penalty shoot-out?
All the players who took penalties against Ghana had been practising before and we knew what to do. Even Maxi [Pereira] struck his well and he only just missed. You really suffer at times like that, though, and we hope we don’t need another shoot-out against the Dutch.

What do you think about the Netherlands?
Everyone knows they are a great side with some world-class players, especially up front. They are solid at the back too and they are all comfortable on the ball. That makes it an even more difficult game for us.

What is the key to winning the game?
To keep on doing the things that have got us this far. We’ve had respect for all our opponents and we won’t be making an exception now. We know how to play teams like the Netherlands too, and you have to be ready to face the challenge, whether it’s 90 or 120 minutes. The team’s definitely ready to face this one.

Suarez and Fucile are suspended, your captain Diego Lugano is rated doubtful and Nicolas Lodeiro is definitely out...
They are all important players but the ones who came in against Ghana showed they could rise to the occasion. To be honest, the whole squad’s ready to play. We’ll just have to wait and see how the coach [Oscar Tabarez] approaches the game, but I’m sure will be going into it in the best possible shape.

Finally, how is the team reacting to all the excitement back home?
It’s fantastic to see and pretty hard to explain. We get lots of emails, message and calls but we’re so far away that we’re experiencing it in a different way. We know people are getting really caught up in it, especially the youngsters, who’ve never seen Uruguay go this far. And on a personal level I’m thrilled to be bringing so much joy to the Uruguayan people. Let’s just hope we can give them more to cheer about.