Port Elizabeth: Uruguay’s players heralded a new era for the two-time World Cup winners in the wake of their 3-2 defeat by Germany in the third place match here.
While the result was the same as their clash at the same stage 40 years ago in Mexico, it still represented their best performance at the tournament since their 1970 vintage.
For defender Jorge Fucile their fourth placing was richly deserved - despite their winning the quarter-final against Ghana because Luis Suarez punched the ball off the line in the dying seconds of their match which would have seen the Africans progress 2-1 - and predicted better things to come.
“I am proud of what we have achieved here, we were up to the challenge, among the best four teams,” said the 25-year-old Porto fullback.
“However, as we saw against the Germans the difference between us and the historically successful teams is that they have the ice cold temperament and this little bit extra that edges them past sides like us.
“For Uruguay, however, this is the beginning of a new cycle, Uruguay is where it should be. Personally, I am happy of what I have done in the finals, I showed the world who is Fucile,” added Fucile, who has garnered three Portuguese titles since he joined from Liverpool Montevideo in 2006.
Hardman midfielder Diego Perez said that there was still room for improvement and two successive 3-2 defeats (the Dutch beat them 3-2 in the semi-finals) left a bitter taste in the mouth.
“It is a strange feeling: Uruguay played well, we scored twice, like against the Netherlands, and we still lost,” said the 30-year-old, who plays his club football for French Championship side Monaco.
“However, Uruguay displayed in these two matches that it has made progress, that it can keep the ball and use it, but there are still a few things missing to make us a complete side.
“There is a bitter taste for me that we couldn’t offer the country victory in this match but at the same time we have to take the positives out of our campaign, even if we made mistakes that are fatal against stronger teams.
“We leave with our spirits high, proud of the work we have done for the past four years (since coach Oscar Tabarez took over the coaching post), without forgetting that there are regrets.”
Perez summed up what the rest of the squad felt about striker Diego Forlan, who took his tally to five goals with one against Germany but whose talsimanic qualities brought much more to the team.
“Forlan? Excellent, he is the symbol of what Uruguay stands for, he fulfilled the tasks that Uruguay was expecting of him.”
Forlan, who at 31 is unlikely to play at a third World Cup finals (he also appeared at the 2002 edition), selflessly praised his team-mates and also the outstanding 63-year-old Tabarez.
“This is the result of all the work we put together during the qualifiers which admittedly almost cost us our place here (they had to beat CONCACAF side Costa Rica in a play-off),” said the Villarreal star, who almost forced extra-time against the Germans as his freekick rattled the crossbar in the final action of normal time.
“We were always confident in the work and ideas of ‘Maestro’ Tabarez. And here at the World Cup we demonstrated that all the hard work got its just desserts.”
The players are fervently hoping that Tabarez will sign a new contract and take them onto finals glory in the 2011 Copa America in Argentina.
Tabarez signalled that he ws interested in doing just that, though, he is yet to hold talks with the federation.
“I am nearer to the end of my career than the beginning, but I feel fine physically,” said Tabarez, who has also turned his hand to teaching and is nicknamed ‘The Professor’.
“It would interest me to continue with Uruguay, but it is not the time to be speaking about that,” added Tabarez, unusual among football coaches in rousing his players with literary quotes.