Johannesburg: One-time football power Uruguay are on the verge of their first World Cup semi-final appearance in 40 years with African hope Ghana blocking their way at Soccer City here on Friday.
Before Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay were the dominant South American team winning two World Cups in 1930 and 1950, two Olympic Games gold medals and eight of their 14 Copa America titles.
La Celeste’s World Cup fortunes have been in decline since their seismic 2-1 upset of Brazil in the 1950 final before 174,000 fans at the Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro.
Uruguay reached the semi-finals in 1954 and 1970, but on Friday Oscar Tabarez’s team get their chance to reach the last four after a break of four decades.
Ghana, with all of Africa behind them, are out to create history of their own, but Uruguay are surfing the wave of South American success at South Africa 2010.
They have won three of their four matches after an opening scoreless draw with France and in Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan Uruguay possess two of the most potent forwards in the tournament, while the defence, marshalled by skipper Diego Lugano, has only conceded one goal.
Ajax striker Suarez’s curling right-footer in the 80th minute of Saturday’s last 16 match with South Korea earned Uruguay a last-eight spot, and also netted him the man of the match award.
Forlan hopes the strong South American presence in the quarter-finals will encourage FIFA to revisit their quota of finals places rather than force the fifth team in the regional qualifiers to play off against a Central American side.
Uruguay had to overcome Costa Rica to reach the finals.
“We have to show how strong South American football is and the strength of the qualifying programme. I hope in doing so we can have five places and not the current four-and-a-half for the next World Cup in Brazil,” Forlan said.
Tabarez has already finalised his team replacing defender Diego Godin and midfielder Alvaro Pereira with Mauricio Victorino and Alvaro Fernandez.
“Before we began this World Cup, we saw this great harmony among the players and I said to them, ‘The people back home have aspirations, they have dreams and we have to deliver them’,” Tabarez said.
“Our objective is to go as far as we can in this tournament.”
Ghana are bidding to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Ghana’s ‘Black Stars’ are the lone flag-waver for Africa in the first World Cup staged on the continent and there is an emotional outpouring of support for them against Uruguay.
Ghana became only the third African team along with Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) to reach the last eight at the World Cup when they downed the United States 2-1 in Rustenburg last Saturday.
South Africa 2010 was trumpeted as Africa’s long-awaited opportunity to host the world’s greatest sporting showpiece, but only Ghana has survived after the demise of South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Algeria at the group stage.
Now after their fighting win over the Americans, the Black Stars have the opportunity to do what no other African team has previously achieved and progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
It will be the first ever meeting between the two countries each other and both teams were not expected to be competing for a place in the semi-final against either Brazil or the Netherlands.