x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Uruguay looking for European scalp

With Asia and Africa teams among their knockout victims, Forlan's side aim to add a third continent to list, says Gary Meenaghan.

Diego Forlan will lead the Uruguay attack as they seek their first appearance in the World Cup final since 1950.
Diego Forlan will lead the Uruguay attack as they seek their first appearance in the World Cup final since 1950.

On message boards and blogs, social sites and online forums, optimistic Uruguay fans, buoyed by their country's first appearance in a World Cup semi-final since 1970, are dreaming that the next flight their travelling, horn-tooting troops will take will be a celebration in the sky between Cape Town and Johannesburg, rather than a long, solemn flight back to South America.

Oscar Tabarez, La Celeste's coach, is aware his side have already overachieved in many ways, yet remains confident he can negotiate his side through to their first final in 60 years. "We are among the four best teams at this World Cup," Tabarez says. "This is something we would never have imagined before coming to South Africa. My players are very united. I don't know how far we can go in the tournament; the Netherlands have some great players, but we have enough footballers in our pack to send out a side that deserves my confidence."

Tabarez was just three-years-old when Uruguay won the last of their two World Cups, yet he remains well aware of the respect the 1950 squad - who beat Brazil 2-1 in the final in Rio De Janiero - continues to be shown today and says his side is ready to fight for similar plaudits. "We still hold those champions as idols," he says. "I don't know what would happen if we were to achieve what that team achieved.

"If there is a glimmer of hope, we must hang on. We will certainly not throw in the towel. Holland will be very difficult -but not impossible." However, La Celeste supporters' optimism ahead of tonight's clash with Holland, while as commendable as it is contagious, could be construed as misplaced. An opening day draw with a disillusioned France team devoid of belief, followed by a conclusive victory over a 10-man host nation drowned by expectations, allowed Tabarez's team to face Mexico with both teams knowing their progress from Group A was practically secure.

Against South Korea in the last 16, they played, by their coach's own admission, poorly throughout and only found their rhythm with 10 minutes remaining. And against Ghana in the quarter-finals, they were on their way out, but for the illegal intervention of Luis Suarez - who will miss tonight's game after receiving a deserved red card. However, Bert van Marwijk, the Holland coach, is reluctant to write his opponents off. With the Dutch often viewed as perennial underachievers, the former Feyenoord manager has warned his side not to get complacent, although added he expects to return to Europe with the trophy.

"Uruguay are a team of fighters," Van Marwijk said. "They battle and survive - it will be a very dangerous match. We must not underestimate them. "I told the Dutch FA two years ago that I was not going to this tournament just to take part in it; I'm a sportsman and if I go somewhere, I want to win. We're going for [the trophy], but I will make it very clear to my team - we have still got two matches to play and the next match is the most important. We will have to really concentrate."

The team will undoubtedly be buoyed by strong support this evening with more than 20,000 Dutch expatriates residing in Cape Town, Green Point Stadium can be expected to awash in a sea of Oranje. Yet a quick glance at the message boards confirm Uruguay's passionate support will not be attending simply to make up numbers, with one confident commenter noting: "Africa? Beaten. Asia? Defeated. Europe? Next." gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

HOLLAND June 14 Holland 2 Denmark 0 Agger (og) 46 Kuyt 85 June 19 Holland 1 Japan 0 Sniejder 53 June 24 Holland 2 Cameroon 1 Van Persie 36 Eto'o (pen) 65 Huntelaar 83 Second round June 28 Holland 2 Slovakia 1 Robben 18 Vittek (pen) 90+4 Sneijder 84 Quarter-final July 2 Holland 2 Brazil 1 Sneijder 53, 68 Robinho 10 URUGUAY June 11 Uruguay 0 France 0 June 16 Uruguay 3 South Africa 0 Forlan 24, (pen) 80 A Pereira 90+5 June 22 Uruguay 1 Mexico 0 Suarez 43 Second round June 26 Uruguay 2 South Korea 1 Suarez 8, 80 Chung-young Lee 68 Quarter-final July 2 Uruguay 1 Ghana 1 AET Forlan 55 Muntari 45+2 (Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties)