Dutch defender John Heitinga will be firmly in the spoltlight in Cape Town on Tuesday in the FIFA World Cup™ semi-final as he is assigned the task of neutralising the Uruguayans' most potent threat Diego Forlan.
The 26-year-old Dutchman, who will win his 60th cap in easily the most important match of his career, will have one advantage in that he played alongside the former Manchester United striker for one season at Atletico Madrid before the defender moved to Everton. The two remain friends but Heitinga said that would count for nothing as the Dutch attempt to reach their third final, but first in 32 years, and the Uruguayans look to move closer to recording their third triumph, but first in 60 years.
"[Forlan] is a really good player," said Heitinga. "I have kept in touch with him since I left Atletico as Diego is above all a great bloke. Once I knew that our two countries would play each other in the semi-final, I sent a text message to my former clubmate. My message? 'It is going to be one hell of a match Diego!'".
We are very focused. What is interesting and encouraging is that we are still capable of improving.
Heitinga, Dutch player of the year in 2008, said that he faced an enormous challenge in the shape of Forlan, who has blossomed after a difficult spell at Manchester United with first Villarreal and then at Atletico. "Atletico Madrid owe him their victory in the Europa League." said Heitinga about Forlan, who scored both of the club's goals in the 2-1 win in the final over Fulham.
"He is a god both at Madrid, as well as with Uruguay and this World Cup proves it," he said about the player who has scored three goals including a stunning freekick against Ghana in the quarter-finals. "Diego is good with both feet and therefore impossible for a defender to predict what he's going to do. And it is imperative not to allow him time to shoot even from distance, because he possesses one of the best shots on the planet."
Suarez suspension boosts Dutch
Heitinga, who made his name at Ajax before moving to Atletico for a season, said that Forlan was not the only danger to the Oranje's hopes of reaching the final, but that he was pleased his former Ajax team-mate and Forlan's strike partner Luis Suarez was suspended after his infamous punching away of the ball off the line in the final minute of their match with Ghana. "Diego is dangerous. But the whole of the Uruguayan team is," he said. "I am relieved that Luis Suarez is suspended as he is a real opportunist. With him, a half chance can turn into a goal. He will certainly be missed by his team. But we are not going to complain."
Heitinga, who is in his fourth major finals with the Dutch having appeared at Euro 2004 and 2008 and the 2006 World Cup finals, is hoping that this will prove to be an historic week for the Dutch as they chase the world title that has eluded them thus far. "We are so close yet so far from achieving that goal," said Heitinga. "There are still two matches to be won. We have won five here already, which is no small exploit. On a personal level I have had an unspectacular but effective tournament. It rather reflects the team as a whole. We are very focused. What is interesting and encouraging is that we are still capable of improving."