Thursday, 10 June 2010

Forlorn Forlan Won't Be Forgotten When Uruguay Take on France in Cape Town tomorrow

ALMOST forgotten amid the once-upon-a-time hysteria surrounding South Africa’s World Cup kick-off tomorrow is a little wizard with golden locks, hoping to complete a 60-year-old fairy tale.

When the jets and – hopefully – Nelson Mandela have departed Soccer City and while the Rainbow Nation are still digesting their opening clash with Mexico, Uruguay will kick off the second Group A game of the day against once-mighty France in Cape Town at 8.30pm (7.30pm in England).

And all eyes will be on former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan. We may have ignored him a little after he left Old Trafford for Spain. But his dad, Pablo, is there to remind us: “If he shows his true form, Uruguay could go far. And I really hope they do.”

Pablo played for Uruguay too, while grand-dad Juan Carlos Corzao played for Independiente in Argentina. Diego, earning rave reviews at Atletico Madrid en route to their Europa League triumph (above) last season, says: “Dad played in two World Cups, 1966 and 1974. I am so proud of him.”

Hopefully, by tomorrow night at around 10pm, the feeling will be mutual. To get past fragile France, Forlan will be relying on the famous Uruguayan fighting spirit: “When people talk about garra charrúa, sometimes they think it means ‘playing hard’. But that’s not really what it is. It means we must focus on winning – nothing else matters.”

Uruguay coach Oscar “The Maestro” Tabarez, who chose to play just one warm-up match, has already named his team. Chile-based defender Mauricio Victorino and Penarol midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios are the surprise choices, the only two changes to the side which beat Israel 4-1. That was on May 26 and we’ve seen little of Uruguay, World Cup winners 60 years ago, since.

Forlan, 31 years, 62 caps, 24 goals, will play next to Ajax’s 35-goal striker Luis Suarez up front after overcoming injury scares. They are considered to be one of the most frightening dynamic duos at this World Cup.

Uruguay missed out on Germany 2006 but Forlan was around for 2002. After his side were forced to see off Costa Rica in a play-off after finishing fifth in the lengthy Latin American qualifying group, he grins: "It doesn’t matter how we got here, what’s important is that we are here now, in South Africa. We can forget about the ghosts of matches past.

“The years have flown by for everyone, but this time it's my turn to be one of the older heads – I’ll approach it with a bit more experience under my belt. We’ve got a great bunch of footballers who all get on very well together.”

France, after drawing with Tunisia and losing to China in their last two warm-ups, are in disarray. There are reported splits in the camp and today we hear coach Raymond Domenech, who will be replaced by Laurent Blanc after the World Cup, has been told by the players he must start veteran Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry “Hand of God” Henry. France are ranked 9 in the world, Uruguay 16th.

Forlan shrugs off France’s controversial passage to South Africa in that Parisian play-off against the Republic of Ireland, saying: “How they qualified isn’t significant either – they have good players, and it’s going to be a tough match.

“Uruguayan football has a rich history, marked by great victories, trophies and accomplishments. But it’s 60 years since we won the World Cup. Now it’s our turn to leave an impression."

Manchester City’s Patrick Vieira, left out of the French squad, flew in to commentate yesterday. He knows full well the pressures on the 1999 winners and 2006 finalists. He says, a tad hopefully: "France have always been criticised before big tournaments. It’s nothing new. I really strongly believe that France are good enough to win the World Cup even if they haven't played well in the friendlies."

Those lucky enough to have tickets for the opening game at the fabulous new Green Point Stadium tomorrow will then turn their minds to another French clash – on the rugby field at Newlands, where the Springboks await.

It could be a very galling weekend for the French.

Neal Collins is in South Africa promoting his first novel, A GAME APART, dubbed “the book you must read before the World Cup”. For more information see See also his furious Fabio video:

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