Forlan: No one likes to play against Uruguay

  • Diego Forlan speaks exclusively to

  • Former Uruguay skipper discusses country's Russia 2018 chances

  • Forlan: Retiring from international football was a personal decision

For the first time since Italy 1990, Diego Forlan is preparing to cheer Uruguay on at the FIFA World Cup™ as a supporter, a situation that will no doubt take some getting used to for a player who represented La Celeste at each of their world finals appearances since then.

Currently playing in Hong Kong, where he has been banging the goals in for Kitchee, the adidas Golden Ball winner at South Africa 2010 found some time in his busy schedule to discuss Russia 2018, Uruguay’s chances, the influence of Luis Suarez, his role as a fan and the contenders for the Trophy: “Brazil and Germany both have a great chance.” How does it feel after all these years not to be pushing for a place in the Uruguay team ahead of the World Cup? Diego Forlan: It’s different but it’s not something that’s happened overnight. That would have made it harder. When Brazil 2014 ended I knew it was going to be very hard for me to make it to Russia. That’s how I came to terms with it. When the tournament starts and I’m watching it I’m obviously going to wish I was playing. But I’ve played in three of them and I had a great tournament in 2010. I wouldn’t swap that for the chance to play again. It was an amazing experience.

If you had to choose one moment to remember from all those tournaments, which one would it be and why? On a team level I’d have to pick the win against Ghana in South Africa (in the quarter-finals in 2010). It was a game we almost lost but ended up winning on penalties, amazingly. And on a personal note I’d have to go for the end of that World Cup, when I won the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament and finished among the highest scorers.

Is there anything you miss about the national team? To be honest, there isn’t. Retiring from international football was a personal decision, and I was very sure about what I was doing. I played for my country for more than ten years and there were highs and lows. It was a fantastic experience, though, and the most wonderful thing is that it ended well. If it hadn’t, then I might be sitting here saying how much I’d love to come out of retirement. There’s no bitter taste, though.

What is Forlan the Uruguay fan like? Passionate? Laid-back? I’m calm when I watch games. I have every confidence in the national team and the players. That’s how it was in the qualifiers, except when the team dropped a few points and things looked like they might get tricky. But I could see they were going to be fine. We qualified easily enough, which was quite an achievement. Now we’ve got the World Cup coming up and I’m pretty relaxed because I know the coaching staff, I know how they go about things and I know everything the players do in giving their all for the shirt. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to win the World Cup, but I hope we do.

One of those players is Luis Suarez. How important is he to the current side? Luis, [Diego] Godin and [Edinson] Cavani are all players who’ve been in the national team for a long time. They’re very important. Suarez is very strong physically and he can really handle himself. He’s a great goalscorer but he’s also setting up a lot more goals these days too. Going to Barcelona has helped him improve a lot in that respect. His vision's getting better all the time, and he can play in different ways too: one way for the national team and another for Barcelona.

In 2010, Enzo Francescoli told us that you had what it took to become an even more important player for Uruguay than he was. Eight years on, can Forlan say the same about Suarez? It’s hard. There have been some great players over the years. I think it’s something that gets passed on from generation to generation. And it obviously depends a lot on results on the pitch too. I’ve always said that it comes down to personal preference and specific moments in time too. But if you look at the history of football, there are some great players who’ve won a lot and others who’ve not had the chance to win.

Just to be considered one of the best is a privilege in itself, but it comes down to your own personal opinion.

What are Uruguay aiming for in Russia? To play a leading role, no question. The important thing is to get out of the group, which is the hardest part. Sometimes you start off by losing your first game, which is what happened to us in Brazil, and then you have to win to stay in the competition. There are no easy opponents but Uruguay have got a good enough team to mix it with the big boys.

We’re a small country and if you look at it that way, then we’re at a disadvantage, though I know that most of the players who know or have come up against Uruguayans prefer to avoid us. That’s plain to see. Uruguay are a very awkward side and no one likes to play against us, which is a lovely feeling.

Italy, the Netherlands and Chile will all be missing. Is there any side in particular that you’re surprised not to see there? No, I’m not surprised. We’ve won two World Cups and more Copas America than anyone else and yet we’ve missed out a few times. In the modern game anyone can beat anyone. Italy won the world title in 2006 and went out in the group phase in 2010 and 2014. They didn’t make it beyond the first round. You don’t win things because of your history, the shirt or the names on the teamsheet. It’s all about what you do in the here and now.

Talking of the present, who are the favourites to win the Trophy? There are two in my book: Brazil and Germany. Brazil are playing really well. They’ve got a great coach and Neymar has been in superb form. The way he’s been playing week in week out, he’s going to be fighting it out soon with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the best player in the world. Tite has got some really great players and he’s rebuilt the team and made it much more solid at the back. He’s a coach that really likes to plan ahead and he’s a very astute tactician. If things stay the way they are, they’ll have a great chance.

So, if Brazil and Germany faced off in the Final, you’d be backing the five-time world champions? Obviously, because they’re South Americans and I have a lot of affection for them. My father played for Sao Paulo for several years. I played in Brazil too and made a lot of friends there. I’d prefer Brazil because they’re our neighbours, and it would be a sweet moment for them after the heavy defeat they suffered in 2014.