It will be some time before memories of Uruguay's performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ fade. For the first time in 40 years, La Celeste claimed a top-four finish in the world finals, quite an achievement for the very last team to qualify for the competition.
"Overall it's been a very good tournament for us because we've played the seven games we came here to play," said talismanic striker Diego Forlan, talking exclusively to FIFA.com. "Uruguay are the fourth-best team in the world. And we've got nothing to moan about because we achieved some big things and we were just a step away from reaching the Final, with everything that means. The team brought the country together and gave the youngsters something they'd never seen before. That just goes to show that a group of players focused on a specific set of objectives can achieve important results."
The last time Uruguay had reached the last four was at Mexico 1970, when they also fell to Germany in the match for third place. "It was important to try and finish third and it would have been nice to go back to Uruguay with a win, especially against a team like Germany," added Forlan. "Losing isn't going to change our view of the tournament, though."
The scorer of five goals in all, the blond-haired front man was the star attraction of Los Charrúas' surprise showing, his performances earning him the adidas Golden Ball in the process. One of only two South American players in the running for the coveted player of the tournament award, Forlan enhanced his status as a world star in South Africa. But he is first and foremost a team player. "I'm happy on a personal level but I'm also delighted to have helped the team succeed. It doesn't matter whether I score goals, make passes or have to mark opponents, I'm happy to help the team fight for big objectives. I knew people had invested their hopes in me and I just accepted that as well as I could. I'm happy I didn't let my team-mates or the fans down."
Looking to the futureWhile there are doubts as to whether coach Oscar Tabarez will continue in the post, with the man himself saying it is too soon to decide, Uruguay captain Diego Lugano believes the future is bright. "Uruguay are a young team. This was the first World Cup for everyone, apart from Forlan and [Sebastian] Abreu. We played to a really high standard and my feeling is that we have to set ourselves the challenge of getting this far again."
We showed that you can compete if you do things right but I want this to be seen as a starting point rather than as an end in itself.
With an average age of 27 years and one month, Uruguay were the 11th-youngest of the 32 qualifiers. The likes of Lugano, Forlan and Diego Perez will have entered their 30s by the time Brazil 2014 comes around, but young guns Fernando Muslera, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin, Maximiliano Pereira and Alvaro Pereira, all of them prominent figures here, will be in their footballing prime in four years. "Can we make the last four again?" said Forlan. "We need to enjoy the moment and then look back at what we did, how we did it and why we got as far as this. There are still another four years to go till Brazil and at the very least we need to work in the same way. If we can do that we might be able to do it again."
The final word on Uruguay's rewarding run goes to Lugano. "As time goes by we'll realise that we finished in the top four and we'll understand just how good a World Cup this was for us. In terms of organisation and structure there's a massive difference between us and the top three teams, but we showed that you can compete if you do things right. I just hope we can use what we've done here to change our mindset. I want this to be seen as a starting point rather than as an end in itself."