Uruguay believe being forced to scramble through the back-door of a nerve-shredding play-off to make the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ has forged the rock-hard team spirit which has taken them to within one match of the Final.
The South Americans, champions in 1930 and 1950, will play the Netherlands in the semi-finals in Cape Town on Tuesday, an astonishing performance for a country whose recent record has been mediocre. This is their first semi-final since 1970, and they failed to qualify for five of the last ten finals.
They only got to South Africa thanks to a 2-1 aggregate victory over Costa Rica in a play-off having finished fifth in the gruelling South American qualifying competition. "We were the last to qualify for the World Cup so in difficult moments when many things were going against us we knew how to go forward," said striker Edinson Cavani on Sunday. "I think it's a very important thing for our country and our people who have great expectations, we're representing our continent."
Although Uruguay are the only South American team to reach the last four, quarter-final penalty star Sebastian Abreu believes the level of football on his continent is the highest in the world. "The South American qualifiers showed that they're the hardest because we had four teams in the quarter-finals," he said.
Uruguay so nearly did not make it this far as Ghana had a golden opportunity to beat them in the previous round when striker Asamoah Gyan missed a penalty in the last minute of extra time with the scores locked at 1-1. He crashed his effort off the bar and Uruguay went on to win the shoot-out.
But had it not been for striker Luis Suarez's handball on the line to concede that last-gasp penalty, Uruguay would already be back in Montevideo. Suarez is suspended for the semi-final and the South Americans also have concerns over captain Diego Lugano, who has an injured knee after limping out of the Ghana clash in the first half.
And he is not confident he will be fit by Tuesday. "This morning I was able to run only in a straight line, but without pain," he said on Sunday. "With just four days between games that's not much time, it'll be very difficult (to be fit). It could get better, we'll wait until the last moment to see. But you have to be honest with your team, in such a special moment you have to be at 1,000 percent. I have to do the impossible to be ready but I must also be fit (if I am to play)."