Johannesburg: The man once unkindly dubbed “Diego Forlorn” confirmed his reputation as one of the world’s deadliest strikers as Uruguay dumped Africa’s last remaining hopes Ghana out of the World Cup.
Diego Forlan lit up the Soccer City stadium with a rasping free-kick that dipped and swerved in the air to deceive Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson 10 minutes into the second period of the quarter-final.
His blockbuster strike levelled the score at 1-1 and allowed the South Americans to take the tie into extra-time and then win 4-2 on penalties, after Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan had slammed a spot-kick against the crossbar with the last kick of the match. Forlan also kept his nerve to successfully slot home the first penalty of the shoot-out and earned the man-of-the-match award.
“We suffered but now we will be among the four best sides in the world,” said the Atletico Madrid star. As far as my goal was concerned, I hit it normally. I had to score and I didn’t think about anything else.”
For the 31-year-old striker it was one of the highlights of a career that appeared to be stalling after two frustrating and fruitless seasons at Manchester United. He arrived in England in 2002 as a highly sought-after 23-year-old who had impressed for Independiente in Argentina.
But his dream move soon turned sour as he struggled to break into the United first team-whose forward line was marshalled by the prolific Ruud van Nistelrooy -- and even took 27 games to notch his first goal. With his Dutch team-mate banging in goals for fun, Forlan’s own troubles in finding the net were magnified.
Although he did notch some vital strikes, such as late goals against Aston Villa and Chelsea as United won the title in 2003 and a brace at Anfield to defeat bitter rivals Liverpool, his return of 17 goals in 95 appearances over two years was not deemed sufficient for a career at Old Trafford. In the summer of 2004 he was offloaded to Spanish side Villarreal for a fraction of the fee United paid for him and it was in Spain that he resurrected his career.
He took no time at all to find his feet in La Liga, scoring 25 goals in his first season to finish as league top scorer before repeating the feat in 2008-09, this time in the colours of Atletico.
His goalscoring exploits in those two seasons earned him the coveted European Golden Shoe (shared with Thierry Henry in 2005) and he finished last season with a Europa League winners’ medal after scoring both goals in Atletico’s 2-1 defeat of Fulham in the tournament final. With three goals in five games he is inching towards the top of the World Cup goalscorers chart as well.
He has not helped his popularity by scoring the goals that helped eliminate hosts South Africa and then put paid to Ghana, but if his goals fire La Celeste to the ultimate prize on July 11, the people of Uruguay will not care one bit.