Uruguay is 2010's Cinderella
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
Uruguay's Luis Suarez, who stopped a last minute shot at goal by Ghana, celebrates with team mates after their 2010 World Cup quarter-final. (REUTERS/Henry Romero)
CAPE TOWN - They are the only representative of South America remaining in the Final Four.
They have won more World Cups than alleged global soccer powers England, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands. All this from a country that has a population smaller than that of metropolitan Toronto.
How many people outside of Montevideo would have guessed we were referring to Uruguay? Yet here is this tiny country, wedged between soccer giants Brazil and Argentina in southeastern South America, still standing at World Cup 2010.
And if you don't think there is some chest-pounding going on down there with their bid bad neighbours from Brazil and Argentina having been booted out of the big dance here in South Africa already, guess again.
"The people of Montevideo are overjoyed at what we have done," manager Oscar Tabarez said Monday, knowing how much the entire country and its capital city will come to a standstill when Uruguay meets The Netherlands in a semifinal of South Africa 2010 at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Keep in mind that global soccer success is nothing new in the history of Uruguay. You pretty much have to be quite the old geezer to remember it, though.
Uruguay, in fact, played host to the first World Cup in 1930. At that time, teams from Romania, Belgium and France travelled by ship to reach the tournament.
Uruguay won that inaugural World Cup. Twenty years later, in 1950, they captured its second. Other than a fourth-place finish in 1970, however, recent times have pretty much been barren from a soccer standpoint.
The rags-to-riches climb of the 2010 Uruguay team really is a Cinderella-type story. Consider that it needed a 2-1 aggregate win over Costa Rica in a playoff just to qualify for South Africa 2010.
Now, come Tuesday, they will be on the pitch while South American greats Kaka of Brazil and Lionel Messi of Argentina will be watching on television back home.
Maybe no one is giving Uruguay much of a chance against the Dutch. And maybe, yes, the odds are against it. But after this magical ride it has been on, Tabarez and his players are not about to wave the white towels in surrender.
"If we want to talk about which team is superior, based on the past few years, we wouldn't even be playing the match," Tabarez said. "It's Holland. But the scoreboard hasn't been written yet. Every team has a weakness. It is our job to find theirs.
"Maybe it will take a perfect game on our part. But it can be done."
Through it all, Tabarez warns that a win will not return Uruguay to the status of a global soccer power like it was 60 years ago. The world simply is a much different place.
"This does not put us back to where we were in the first half of the 20th century," he said. "The gap between the first- and third-world countries is widening all the time. Good players are leaving to play in Europe. There is not the money to put in youth soccer.
"We shouldn't think the world is about to change because we've won a few matches."
Maybe not. But there's nothing wrong with doing a little bit of bragging to the neighbouring Brazilians and Argentines.