At 34 and playing his club football in Brazil, many thought Diego Forlan’s best days in a Uruguay shirt were behind him. Three years removed from winning the Golden Ball in the 2010 World Cup, Forlan had been forced to return to South America — the continent he left in 2001 — after his failed season at Inter Milan in 2011. On the peripheral of the Uruguayan national team and well behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in the striking order, his odds for a starting World Cup place seemed long. And then came the second half of Uruguay’s Confederations Cup opener against Spain.
Forced to watch from the bench as Spain terrorized La Celeste, Forlan could only sit helplessly, left waiting for an opportunity to change Uruguay’s fortunes. Having watched for more than an hour, his opportunity arrived in the 69th minute. As one Diego exited another arrived, when Diego Lugano made way for what would become Forlan’s record breaking 99th appearance for his country. With Uruguay already down two, Forlan found himself on the pitch with just twenty-one minutes with which to work a comeback. The substitution moved Cavani out to the right flank as Suarez occupied the center, leaving the space beneath the Liverpool striker appropriately available for Forlan — the man who wears Uruguay’s #10 shirt.
While his tangible impact may have been minimal — a more cynical critic might point out that he failed to even once threaten Casillas’ goal — and the comeback was ultimately left only half-complete, Forlan introduced a new mindset to the Uruguayan midfield. From the moment he came on, he brought a belief that the Spanish midfield could be attacked, that there was finally a player in white who believed he could provide the pass that might open the Spanish defense. Indeed, it was his pass into Suarez that forced Sergio Ramos to concede the foul that led to Suarez’s curling free kick that that saw Uruguay climb to within one — the closest they would get.
Despite the loss, Forlan showed enough of his enduring quality to warrant a place in the starting eleven three days later in the pivotal match against Nigeria. In a game that would see the winner advance to the semifinals (barring a shock defeat to Tahiti in their final group match Uruguay would finish on six points with a victory), Forlan proved the difference for the South Americans. Marking his 100th appearance with a goal and an assist, the 34 year old Forlan won man of the match, providing the attacking impetus his side so obviously lacked against Spain. While the difference in opposition is clear — 30 spots separate Spain from Nigeria in FIFA’s rankings — it would require a far more calloused viewer than I to deny Forlan’s creative influence on this side. Having previously lost his place to Cavani, a player who so often fails to replicate his club form at the international level, Forlan (who is quite the opposite, as his goal against Nigeria saw his then Uruguayan record climb to an impressive 33) looks to have surely forced Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguayan manager, into permanently adopting a three pronged trident in attack.
And so two years on from having scored twice in the final of the 2011 Copa America — a result that earned Uruguay its place in this Confederations Cup — it seems only appropriate Diego Forlan would score the goal that books them their trip to the semifinal. All, while re-establishing himself as the all-important Uruguayan #10.