Cape Town: Diego Forlan ignored the pain for as long as he could, carrying Uruguay on his shoulders and giving the little nation hope of a most improbable World Cup final berth.
That made the disappointment all the more bitter.
The score was 1-1 in the second half and the South
American nation was making it a tight game against the
Netherlands. Forlan was leading by example as the stand-in
captain, equalizing the match with a 25-yard blast, spreading
passes from deep and threatening in the box.
Then, the Dutch struck twice and Forlan`s thigh became so
unbearable he couldn`t continue. Despite a fantastic
tournament for himself and his country, Forlan was crushed.
"We were so close to the final," said the 31-year-old
striker, who scored four goals in South Africa. "It`s very
disappointing. We had chances and we didn`t take them."
Forlan said he felt pain in his thigh before the 3-2
semifinal loss yesterday, but was determined to play - and the
immediate results were astounding.
After Giovanni van Bronckhorst scored a stunning
first-half goal for the Netherlands, Forlan brought his
country of 3.5 million people back into the match with a
swerving shot from distance that Dutch goalkeeper Maarten
Stekelenburg couldn`t keep out.
With Uruguay missing a number of regular starters because
of injury or suspension, Forlan wore the captain`s armband in
place of Diego Lugano and seemed determined to compensate for
the absence of his normal forward partner Luis Suarez and part
of the first-team midfield.
There he was almost as a right back, sending a pinpoint
through pass halfway across the pitch to an onrushing
Uruguayan winger. He tested Stekelenburg again with a
swerving, 30-yard free kick that brought out a good save. And
he was fighting for every loose ball.
Then, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben scored for the
Dutch in quick succession. The Uruguayans were deflated, and
Forlan`s thigh was dead.
"When we started the game, I had a bit of pain. In the
later minutes it was more painful," he said, stoically. Still
he ran off the pitch at full speed when Uruguay coach Oscar
Tabarez replaced him in the 85th minute with Sebastian
Those seconds might have counted as the team closed the
gap to 3-2 with a late goal, setting up a frantic finish.
"He was hurting," Tabarez said. "It wasn`t anything
grave, but obviously you could see, especially at the end,
that he wasn`t 100 percent."
Forlan said he hoped to play in Uruguay`s third-place
consolation match in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The team will face either Spain or Germany, who meet in
the other semifinal match Wednesday, and it might be the last
chance for Forlan to display his talents on the world`s
biggest stage. He will be 35, and possibly too old, when the
2014 World Cup takes place in Brazil.
After averaging more than 20 goals a season at club level
in Spain over the last six years, and twice winning the Golden
Boot as Europe`s top scorer, this tournament cemented the
blond-haired striker`s reputation as one of the world`s top
Forlan acknowledged the team`s great improvement in
recent years, and its fine showing at the World Cup.
But a bitter sense of frustration pervaded.
"It`s a shame because we lost a unique opportunity,"
Forlan said. "We had a chance to score a goal in the second
half. The game was going for us. But we didn`t score, and they