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Forlan ushers Uruguay into new era


Uruguay's Diego Forlan became the first player in this World Cup to score more than one goal in a single match when he put two past South Africa earlier this week, pushing the host nation to the brink of elimination.

The 31-year-old striker, tall and golden-locked, is hardly the stereotypical South American forward. His speed and potency are more reminiscent of European style players. Like a good wine, he has gone improved over time, going from strength to strength year upon year.

This is isn't his first World Cup: he came on during the second half of one match in 2002, scored twice, and went home again with his team. His brief appearance had not been enough, and Uruguay didn't make it pass the first round.

In 2006 he watched at home with an injury while his teammates failed to qualify for the Finals. He had been injured and recovered in time for the first leg of the qualifying playoff against Australia, only to get injured again 18 minutes into the game. He wasn't match fit for the second leg, and Uruguay didn't make it.

He is playing now to make up for it. Even his cheek muscles seemed to be tightened up in gear for the goal. He converted from a penalty kick; always a favorite of his. "Whenever I have the chance, I like to take penalties," Forlan once told reporters.

When Forlan played for Manchester United during the 2002-04 seasons, he spent more time on the bench than off it. But even so, he managed to score some important goals in key matches. Twice at Anfield against arch-rivals Liverpool, in what he describes as a "classic" match.

Back then, his teammate Dutch forward Ruud van Nistelrooy asked their Dutch assistant coach Rene Meulensteen to conduct special extra training sessions; just Van Nistlerooy and Forlan, to get a handle on controlling the ball in reduced spaces, in the traditional style of the River Plate players.

Although Forlan is much more of a physically potent, tall striker, with good control of the ball "in the air," there's no denying he has the pedigree of the Southern South American men of soccer. His father Pablo was a Uruguay international who played in the 1966 World Cup, and his maternal grandfather, Juan Carlos Corazo, manager of the country's national team.

As a child, Forlan went to an English-speaking school and played tennis every day for several hours. Soccer was just a twice weekly affair. He could have become a pro in either sport, but soccer took over; "I can't explain why, but I can definitely say football is what I like best."

He started his career in Uruguay's Penarol youth divisions then moved to Danubio. By the time he was 18, he had joined the ranks of Independiente in Argentina -- where he started first division under World Cup-winning manager Cesar Luis Menotti. Before his move to Europe, Forlan had established himself as one of the top scorers in the Argentinian league.

He was snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson, according to rumor, once he had already landed in a UK airport on his way to another club. During his two seasons in Manchester he was mostly eclipsed by bigger names, but he moved on to Villareal in Spain where he promptly became "pichichi" -- the top goal-scorer.

Currently in Atlético de Madrid, marking history in the back of the opponent's net week in week out, Forlan has picked up European golden boots and top scorer rankings fairly consistently. His purchase by the club was described as part of a revolutionary marketing campaign -- "radical marketing" -- following relegation. The club decided to bank on the crisis and launched a very aggressive promotion of loyalty, increasing its fan base with the promise of developing the academy and signing "top level internationals like Forlan." It has worked well so far.

Back in Uruguay, Forlan is hailed as a hero not just for his goals but also for his solidarity and commitment to social issues. A founding member of the Fundacion Alejandra Forlan, headed by his sister, Forlan is outspoken on the perils of dangerous driving. Alejandra was paralyzed in a car accident when Diego was a pre-teen, and the whole family has gathered round to make sure the foundation is given as high a profile as his in Uruguay.

It's early stages in this World Cup and anything can yet happen to any team. But Diego Forlan has already changed the course of history for his country. Prior to the win against South Africa, Uruguay had spent 20 years without winning a single match at World Cup level and since 1954 no Uruguayan player had scored twice in the same match.

From now on, no matter happens, Diego Forlan's hoof has set a new standard for future Uruguay stats; hitting the back of the opponents net and taking the country's history forward with ever spin.