Forlan no longer 'easy-miss'

GARRETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:55 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG - They call him Diego, Diego Forlan.

Where the game's most hyped and brightest stars failed to live up to expectations in South Africa, Forlan has stolen the spotlight. Uruguay's No. 10 has performed like the great number 10's of World Cups past.

A win Tuesday would forever seal his legend: the Blonde Marksman who came to Africa and shocked the world.

Never mind his soccer acumen, women over here love him. They dig his flowing blonde hair and is chiseled good looks. He's not quite a Harlequin model, but not far off.

But the guy's game is far more attractive. He scores. He's a threat from free kicks and drops back into the midfield with exceptional work-rate. Basically at the ripe old age of 31, Forlan has become a complete player.

Uruguay's improbable run has come on his shoulders. No player has had as much influence on his team's success this World Cup than Forlan.

And good on him for it. Nothing has come easy for the man from Montevideo. For long stretches in his career, it was debatable whether he would reach the promise he displayed as a youngster coming through the development system at Independiente.

His reputation as a goal scorer while in Argentina drew the eye of Manchester United's keen evaluator of talent, Sir Alex Ferguson. Perhaps, it was the weight of expectation, perhaps it was a new league and country or even a lack of consistent playing time, but Forlan struggled to find his legs in England.

Forlan became synonymous with "easy-miss," only finding the net 17 times in 98 appearances for the club from 2002 to 2004. A famous double against Liverpool finally won over United supporters, but it was all too late.

Forlan was too unreliable for Ferguson and was sold to La Liga side, Villareal, the same month Wayne Rooney was brought to Old Trafford.

It was in Spain that Forlan became a household name. First with Villareal, scoring 25 goals in his first season at the club, scoring the most goals in La Liga and taking home the European Golden Boot in the process. The key for Forlan was learning to truly harness his talent, developing composure in front of goal.

Speed and strength was never an issue, maturity on the ball was. Since his move to Spain, Forlan has been nothing short of spectacular. After averaging more than a goal every two games at Villareal, Atletico Madrid swooped for the Uruguayan talisman as replacement for the outgoing Fernando Torres who moved to Liverpool.

Forlan may not have the name recognition of Torres, but his production is certainly in line with the Spanish star. His 32 goals in 33 games in 2008-2009 was once again the most in Spain and Europe.

Personal accomplishment is one thing, but Forlan propelled Atletico Madrid to European glory this past season, not only scoring two goals in Atletico's Europa League semi-final tie with Torres' Liverpool, but also scoring both goals in the final, a 2-1 win over Fulham.

Achieving against English teams he struggled so mightily against in the past was sweet. Team achievement was better.

While Torres goal-scoring form has made him one of the best in the world, it's puzzling why Forlan doesn't enter the same conversation. Forlan has now won silverware; Torres hasn't at Liverpool.

And maybe that's the thing. In an age where names matter for all things marketing and promotion, it does very little to effect wins and losses. Perhaps that's what we should take away more than anything else in South Africa -- star power is trumped by team context.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez continues to rave about Forlan's contributions as a team player. The conversation isn't about his talent; it's about his leadership and "desire to help the team." Forlan's teammates echo the sentiment.

The spirit is contagious and you can see it in Uruguay's fight. The team plays for one another.

As a comparison point, a so-called leader, Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo played only for himself, taking audacious efforts from all kinds of impractical places all over the field. Ronaldo was a captain in name only. And predictably, Portugal disappointed.

Forlan never has needed the armband to inspire. Tabarez made an intelligent adjustment after Uruguay's first game, dropping Forlan essentially into a recess striker position, allowing him to roam and explore the field.

Three goals, two of them game-changing, all-world strikes is a testament to his quality.

International glory is next on Forlan's checklist. Regardless how an undermanned, underdog Uruguay fairs against the Netherlands on Tuesday, Forlan has already done enough to deserve the label as biggest star at this World Cup.


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