JOHANNESBURG - Uruguay's usually eloquent
coach Oscar Tabarez was almost at a loss for words after his
team's nail-biting duel with Ghana saw the South Americans reach
the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 40 years.
When he gathered his emotions, he spoke like a man who had
run through a fire and survived.
"I am the coach, I am a professional, and even so, I lack
the necessary calm to carry out an objective analysis," he said.
"Our rival was tough. The game was very difficult, we didn't
play well. We were lucky and luck is important."
The Uruguayans confronted a fast, powerful Ghana who had
just about all the 84,000 fans packed into Johannesburg's Soccer
City as well the rest of the African continent behind them.
It took all of the Uruguayans legendary grit, a brilliant
goal by talismanic striker Diego Forlan, and a remarkable twist
of fate at the end to see them through.
With the score at 1-1 in the dying seconds of extra time,
Uruguay striker Luis Suarez stopped a certain goal by handling
on the line.
He was sent off and Ghana were awarded a penalty,
but Asamoah Gyan hit the bar and the match went into a shootout
which Uruguay won 4-2.
The controversy, and sadness elsewhere at the exit of
Africa's last team, did not diminish the joy in the Uruguayan
camp and back home across the Atlantic Ocean.
The victory sealed Uruguay's best World Cup run in 40 years
and set off an explosion of celebration in a country desperate
for a return to the glory days when La Celeste twice won the
The national pride and frenzy is also driving on the
"Let the people party and enjoy this. We will rest and
prepare for Tuesday," said Forlan as he left the pitch, his
sky-blue shirt turned dark with sweat.
The victory was all the more sweet as arch-rival and
neighbour Brazil - a country with more than 50 times Uruguay's
3.5 million population - were knocked out by the Netherlands.
Uruguay will play the Dutch in the semi-final on Tuesday.
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"Those who believe in fate or destiny might be able to
explain. I don't believe in fate or destiny," said Tabarez, who
is known as The Master due to his days as a school teacher.
"We did what we had to, we won without playing brilliantly.
For many years we haven't had a victory like this. We will face
the Netherlands with the same enthusiasm. We hope to be able to
play a better kind of football."
Although the coach said the team did not play as well as it
could, it was not all down to luck. Forlan, who has emerged as
one of the stars of the tournament, was indefatigable up front
even at the age of 31.
Egidio Arevalo in midfield battled for every ball. And
substitute Sebastian Abreu showed complete disregard for the
drama of the occasion when he cheekily chipped in the last
penalty to decide the tie.
However, there was a price to pay. Suarez, whose strike
partnership with Forlan has netted three goals apiece in South
Africa, will miss the semi-final due to his red card. Defender
Jorge Fucile's second yellow card means he also will sit it out.
Inspirational captain Diego Lugano, the pillar of a defence
that has conceded only two goals in the tournament, limped off
injured just before half time.
"I don't know how far we can go," Tabarez said. "The
Netherlands is a great side, they have brilliant players. If
there is a glimmer of hope, we will not throw in the towel
before we go on the pitch."
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