Uruguay last night rounded on suggestions they had cheated their way to a World Cup semi-final in the wake of Luis Suarez's handball. The denial of what had been a certain Ghana winner in the quarter-final last Friday has united a continent against the weakest country left in the tournament.
The Uruguay manager, Oscar Tabarez, said he was "embarrassed" by suggestions Suarez was a cheat and blamed the British press. "What the British press has said about him is shameful," Tabarez said. "A handball on the line happened in the game between Ghana and Australia. They didn't condemn Harry Kewell. What Suarez did was an instinctive act and Suarez could not foresee what would happen next – that Ghana would miss the penalty. That was not his fault."
Uruguay are, by a distance, the weakest of the four semi-finalists; the last team to qualify for South Africa. Holland, by contrast, have just beaten Brazil. However, since taking over as manager from Marco van Basten, Bert van Marwijk has had to fight against the disease of complacency that has so often undermined Dutch football. "We have been down this road so many times before," said the Holland coach. "The Dutch people have been let down time and time again. I have told this squad that in order to be champions, they must never let up."
With both Robin van Persie and Joris Mathijsen having recovered from injuries sustained in the bitter struggle with Brazil in Port Elizabeth, Van Marwijk's only problem appears to be finding a replacement for the suspended Nigel de Jong, which is likely to be Alkmaar's midfielder, Stijn Schaars. Green Point Stadium will be a sea of orange tonight and not just because of the tide of Dutch history. The manner in which Uruguay overcame Africa's last remaining representatives, Ghana, with Suarez's handball denying the continent a first-ever place in a semi-final, has left a sour taste across the Rainbow Nation.
One of Cape Town's daily papers had a mock-up of the Uruguay striker with devil's horns on its front page. His suspension places an even greater burden on striker Diego Forlan's shoulders, while Tabarez will also have to do without his suspended full-back, Jorge Fucile, and perhaps, most seriously of all, his injured captain, Diego Lugano.
For his press conference, there were less than half the camera crews that had recorded Diego Maradona's thoughts before what proved a disastrous quarter-final with Germany. Observing the tournament from Cuba, Maradona's sometime friend and confidant, Fidel Castro, wrote that having Uruguay as South America's last representatives was a grave disappointment since "hardly any fans would know on which continent Uruguay was". Since Tabarez is a student of Castro's one-time lieutenant, Che Guevara, this would have been something of a slap in the face.
"There are some countries in South America who have three million footballers, which is more than our total population," Tabarez said. "One of the reasons we have succeeded is that we have chosen a base in Kimberley near nobody else; we have been at the World Cup without feeling part of it.
"We have been at a party that we haven't felt like we've been invited to, but we plan to stay on and give more memories to young people back in Uruguay. We will keep on dreaming because we wouldn't be here if we hadn't dared to dream."Reuse content