Saturday, 26 June 2010

Uruguay first into the last eight with a 2-1 win over South Korea... Suarez extends the South American dominance


Uruguay clinically disposed of plucky South Korea in Port Elizabeth, their 2-1 win secured by the consummate finishing of Ajax striker Luis Suarez.

Cracking game to start the knock-out phase, but no surprise. By my calculations, South American teams have played 16 games at South Africa 2010, coming away with 11 wins, four draws and a single, meaningless 2-1 defeat by ten-man Chile at the hands of Spain in the last game of the group phase.

To give them their full name, the Rep├║blica Oriental del Uruguay (the Eastern Republic of Uruguay) survived the rain, a late equaliser, a dismal crowd and an appalling surface to continue the CONMEBOL dominance of this World Cup – and reach the last eight for the first time since 1970.

With a population of just 3.5million Uruguay are hardly a huge nation. On land-size alone, they are the second-smallest country in Latin American (after tiny Surinam) but become the first side from SouthAmerica - apart from big guns Argentina and Brazil - to reach the World Cup quarter-finals since Peru in 1978.

It was hardly a classic, but it was pretty absorbing, unlike the surface at the brand new Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, which was cutting up badly.

Uruguay took an early lead after just eight minutes when former Manchester United striker Diego Forlansaw his cross slip past an embarrassed Jung Sung-Ryong, leaving Suarez to slot into an empty net. Predictably the Group A winners – who left France and South Africa in their wake – shut up shop for a while after that.

South Korea, representing Asian dreams, had it all to do and when a 68th minute free-kick floated into the Uruguay box it looked like we were headed for extra-time and even penalties. Maurico Victorino could only flick on and Bolton's Lee Chung-Yong headed past Fernando Muslera for the equaliser amid incredibly soggy scenes.

But ten minutes from time, Suarez produced the champagne moment to clinch it. A Uruguay corner from the right ended up with Nicolas Lodeiro. He offered the ball to Suarez, who had nowhere to go. So he eased past a defender and send a wonderful winner curling in off the far post. Cue hysteria.

Suarez will now be linked with all the big money clubs in Europe. He's 23 but is a bit too dramatic for my liking. But he scored 35 goals in 33 games for Ajax last season. And in three Ere Divisie seasons, he's got 74 in 94 games.

With Forlan pulling the strings in front of a defence that has conceded just one goal in the tournament so far, who will bet against “South America's Switzerland” beating the winners of the Ghana v USA game at Soccer City on July 2 – and reaching a semi-final against Brazil in Cape Town? They've won it twice before, the last triumph was in Brazil 60 years ago. Even Uruguayans can dream.

Soweto, the ultimate World Cup destination: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mUVdUk0GMQ. Includes fantastic dancing lady and the ultimate World Cup companion!

Neal Collins is in South Africa to marvel at the South Americans, pray for England... and promote his first novel A GAME APART, the real story behind this World Cup. For more information see www.nealcollins.co.uk.


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