JOHANNESBURG // Not since Jose Nasazzi, the Uruguayan right-back who captained his country to success at the 1930 World Cup on home soil, has a defender (albeit posthumously) been awarded the Golden Ball award and recognised as the player of the tournament. The importance of defenders all too often gets lost amid goalkeepers' clean sheets, midfielders' assist rates, and forwards' goal tallies. This month, however, while Paraguay are proving a strong back line can take you far, Nasazzi's homeland is showing that with an effective attack, the route taken can be a lot more comfortable.
Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have scored five goals between them as La Celeste have an enjoyed an impressive march to the last eight and a meeting with Ghana today. Complemented by Edinson Cavani, the Palermo striker, the Uruguayans are showing that a strong forward line is invaluable. Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguayan coach, started his country's World Cup campaign against France with a two-pronged attack, but has since opted to play three up front, with Forlan sitting slightly deeper behind Cavani and Suarez.
The two-time World Cup-winners had an added element to their attacks against South Korea, but with Ghana offering a more robust challenge in the centre of the park, Tabarez could be tempted to revert to a four-man midfield. Forlan, 31, has won two Golden Boot awards for his exploits in Europe with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid - where he has netted 145 goals in 278 games. That success seems to demonstrate that his failure at Manchester United, where it took him eight months and 27 games to score his first goal, had more to do with team and tactics than a want of talent.
On the eve of Uruguay's first World Cup quarter-final since 1970, Forlan is determined to succeed where the likes of Alvaro Recoba and Ruben Sosa, former Uruguayan strikers who failed to fire on the global stage, did not. But he is adamant that the team's success is more important than him getting his name on the scoresheet. "All I do is play and try to keep going the same way. I've been chosen to play a bit further back, trying to arrive later on goal," Forlan said. "If [Suarez] is to get more goals, then so be it and hopefully that helps us go as far as possible."
Suarez, the 23-year-old Ajax forward, enjoyed a prolific season in Holland that saw him named the Eredivisie Player of the Year. Tabarez is under no illusion as to the importance of his forward pairing. When Uruguay broke South African hearts in the group stages, beating them 3-0, it was the first time the South Americans had won a game by more than two goals since La Celeste defeated Scotland 7-0 in 1954. "The records are mere circumstances and the tendency with statistics is that they are made to one day end," Tabarez said. "When the record is broken, it will draw the attention for a while, but every record will only stand for a specific time."
Tabarez, a philosophical and eloquent coach who has worked at AC Milan, Boca Juniors and also coached his country to the World Cup in 1990, explained his footballing philosophy when it comes to his forwards. Tabarez, whose side has conceded just once in four games, said: "When a coach wants to be popular, he says he is an attacking coach; when a coach admits he is a defensive coach, he also admits he is lacking something in his team. But we have strong attackers and they know to come back."
Forlan and Suarez, if they can continue scoring, can lead Uruguay tonight to their first semi-final since 1970. If they achieve that, both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot awards will be within striking distance. firstname.lastname@example.org