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Uruguay's madman with the ice-cool finish

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Paul Fletcher | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

World Cup 2010: Johannesburg

Uruguay striker Sebastian Abreu emerged from his team's dressing room after their stunning penalty shoot-out victory over Ghana on Friday partially hidden behind the lens of a video camera.

Abreu, affectionately known as El Loco (the madman), has been shooting a film of his trip to South Africa and was determined to capture the joyous scenes after La Celeste ended a 40-year wait to reach the last four at the World Cup.

Yet there is no doubt that he himself had been centre stage. It was, after all, the 33-year-old's extraordinarily risky but breathtakingly bold penalty that sealed a semi-final tie against the Netherlands.

Sebastian Abreu shoots and scores the winning shoot out penalty against Ghana (Photo: Getty Images)

In Brazil, where the tall and long-haired Abreu plays his club football for Botafogo, the type of penalty he scored is known as a cavadinha, which roughly translates as a "little amount of digging".

This strikes me as an entirely appropriate description for a penalty kick that requires a player to place his foot under the ball and scoop it into the goal.

To succeed, the penalty taker must wait for the goalkeeper to commit himself before striking the ball down the middle with just enough velocity to ensure it loops gracefully into the net. It is confusing to watch because it seems to happen in slow motion.

Get it wrong, though, and you have a video nasty on your hands, as Leicester City's Yann Kermorgant found out when his botched attempt against Cardiff in a Championship play-off shoot-out last season left him cast as the villain of the piece.

"We're used to his crazy things, it's not the first time he's done that," said Uruguay skipper Diego Lugano of Abreu's strike. "It is quality but he's as mad as he is intelligent. He studies opponents and goalkeepers. He's brave and smart."

Abreu scored an identical penalty in a crucial Rio state championship match against Flamengo back in April and gambled on nobody from Ghana having noticed.

From what I have seen and heard about Abreu, he strikes me as a likeable and intriguing character, especially in a world when footballers can seem bland and devoid of personality.

Abreu's interest in filming is said to stem from a spell as a trainee journalist at school. His final assignment was to cover a basketball match and interview the star player.

The stand-out player turned out to be Abreu, who duly fulfilled his assignment by writing an article about himself.

Abreu has had a nomadic football career, which has taken him to 17 clubs across seven countries, but his popularity is undiminished at home.

In truth, there may be other strikers equally worthy of inclusion in the Uruguay squad but Abreu has a cohesive presence and is regarded as the captain without the armband.

Videos on youtube of Abreu appearing on Uruguayan TV suggest a man who is comfortable in front as well as behind the camera. It is easy to see why he is held in high regard.

That said, apart from his audacious penalty, I didn't think he was particularly effective after coming off the bench against Ghana.

He has a sound scoring record at international football, with 26 goals in 56 appearances coming into the World Cup. But as an old-fashioned target man with plenty of miles on the clock, he lacks mobility and I am not sure he will even start against the Netherlands.

The very fact that coach Oscar Tabarez has a selection decision to make is down to the suspension of Luis Suarez, who saw red for his already infamous handball in the dying seconds of extra-time against Ghana.

The Ajax striker's absence is a major blow for Uruguay, who have profited from arguably the most successful strike partnership in the tournament in Suarez and Diego Forlan.

They have scored six goals between them - three each - and are a key reason why a well-organised if largely unspectacular Uruguay team have remained on track as the road has narrowed at the World Cup.

Suarez arrived in South Africa after a domestic Dutch season that saw him score 49 goals in 48 games.


People doubted he could translate his form to the highest stage but Suarez has delivered in a competition where much-hyped stars such as Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi struggled to find the net.

Forlan was a disappointment at Manchester United after the Premier League giants paid Argentine side Independiente £6.9m for his services in 2002. He required 27 games to get off the mark for the English club. Yet only this weekend, United's first-team coach, Rene Meulensteen, suggested Forlan would be welcomed back with open arms at Old Trafford.

The 31-year-old, who, along with Abreu, played at the 2002 World Cup, has subsequently proved his worth at both Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, with whom he won the Europa League last season after scoring both goals in the final against Fulham.

Forlan is an excellent foil for Suarez, who is extremely quick and able to profit from his fellow striker's intelligent use of the football. He is also the fulcrum of the Uruguay side, dropping deep to seek out the ball and orchestrating all the set pieces.

I have been very impressed in South Africa with his determination, deft touch and positional awareness. He is difficult to mark and always willing to shoot from distance.

It will be very difficult for Uruguay to defeat the Netherlands without half of their potent strike duo - and wily coach Tabarez must now decide who should start alongside Forlan.

If Arbeu is used as an impact player, expect either Palermo's Edison Cavani or Sebastian Fernandez of Argentine side Banfield to replace Suarez as both are quick and mobile.

"The semi-final will be a very tough game," Forlan told me. "The Netherlands have great players but it is a semi-final and we have to win."

It would be foolish to underestimate Uruguay, the only South American team to reach the last four. They might have needed a play-off victory over Costa Rica to qualify for South Africa but, having spent most of their stay here based next to the Big Hole in Kimberley, they have certainly hit a rich seam of form.

And they are looking to strike it rich in Cape Town on Tuesday.


  • Comment number 1.

    Abreus penalty is memrable but forlan has been tha man of all ocassions bar utd.

  • Comment number 2.

    I genuinely believe Uruguay can beat the dutch.. They may not be the best team but play with heart and determination.. And in Forlan they've an amazing talent who mite just single handedly win them the match

  • Comment number 3.

    To compare himself with Zidane is certainly "Loco!" Fantastic bottle though, if England had been good enough to even get to penalties at the later stages we would have struggled to find 5 players with the courage to even step up, let alone try something like Abreu!

  • Comment number 4.

    I hope Uruguay do well, I don;t know why they have not garnered more neutral fan support. I don't get all the complaining about Suarez either, he got a red card and gave away a penalty. Seems fair to me. If the ref had missed the inicident then it would have been cheating. As it is he is a hero in mine, and Uruguay supporters eyes. Also the free kick that led up to the incident was never a free kick anyway.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    I like Uruguay's chances against The Netherlands. They've had a consistently strong defence through the tournament and they have Diego Forlan, who has outshon every other player at this tournament when it concerns Free Kicks and Penalties.

    The biggest concern for The Netherlands, I think, would be to avoid fouling in and around their penalty area.

  • Comment number 7.

    Don't understand why there isn't more support for Uruguay, they have played very positive, attacking football throughout the tournament (bar the France game) and have scored some of the best goals. Forlan and Suarez have been great.
    I can't see them beating Holland without Suarez, but they've had a great World Cup.

  • Comment number 8.

    Absolutely not because Neitherland can thrash Urugauy to the extend by 4 goals to 1 to make them flush.


  • Comment number 9.

    Uruguay can beat Holland. The world may not like it if they do, but that's another matter.

  • Comment number 10.

    Uruguay have done well to get here, but this will be the end of the line. Their defence is very vulnerable and Holland have the firepower to hurt them badly and without Suarez it's difficult to see Uruguay doing the same up the other end.

  • Comment number 11.

    Suarez IS a hero. A disgusting cheating slimy hero maybe, but definitely a hero. Football should implement a penalty goal rule. Simple as. But they haven't, and Suarez is a hero.

  • Comment number 12.

    "That said, apart from his audacious penalty, I didn't think he was particularly effective after coming off the bench against Ghana.

    He has a sound scoring record at international football, with 26 goals in 56 appearances coming into the World Cup. But as an old-fashioned target man with plenty of miles on the clock, he lacks mobility and I am not sure he will even start against the Netherlands."

    That was the first time you have ever seen him play, wasn't it?

  • Comment number 13.

    I would love to see Uruguay do it, I just can't see them getting past the touch. I think they are teams that are similar in attitude, but the dutch have more expierience in their squad and better players and still haven't really got into their stride. I thinking beating Brazil will bring us a nice mixture of practicality and total football and the Dutch will shade it. I would personally love to see Diego Forlan score in the final of the world cup though.
    As for the penalty, I think the Keeper from Ghana had a mixed game, a huge loss of concentration during the match, and frankly didn't look like he had ever even seen a penalty taken before. He was completly clueless, and dived before every penalty was struck.

  • Comment number 14.

    #11, please stop this "penalty goal" nonsense already! People just conveniently forget Ghana won the free kick that leads to the incident by diving. How is awarding a "goal" to the diving team fair?

  • Comment number 15.


    Don't know about the diving, but there's a clear Ghanaian offside in the buildup. Seems to me that had the Ghanaian converted the penalty the Beeb would be reporting the screams of outrage from Montevideo and we would all be on here debating the use of video technology for offside decisions...

  • Comment number 16.

    Great blog Paul...provides a nice little follow up to Tim Vickery's blog of 7th June titled 'Uruguay have case for local support.' too.

    Tim mentioned in his blog then that Uruguay were 'the first South American team in action in this World Cup' but doubt many would have thought they'd also be the last? They have a remarkable World Cup history for a country with a population of under 3.5m people, nearly a third less than Scotland - just thought I'd throw that one for all those thinking such achievements are impossible! ;)

    As for Abreu he seems to be a man full of confidence and his home movie would be a very interesting watch but I doubt he will be trying another 'cavadinha' against the Dutch if he plays.

  • Comment number 17.

    People constantly refer back to Forlan's time at Man Utd without doing any research.

    He was a young striker who had just signed for his first European club, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were both in his way in the fight for a starting place.

    Most of his appearances were off the substitutes bench. People wonder why he didn't make it at Man Utd- the answer is simple. For Villarreal, Atletico Madrid and Uruguay for the last 6 years he has been a REGULAR STARTER. It's as simple as that, if you play you build confidence and you score.

    Also the media in this country were very quick to criticise and make him a figure of fun when he didn't become a regular starter and scorer. What you've got to remember is that they weren't just after Forlan, it was about criticising Ferguson for making a 'flop signing' as well. Hence Forlan became underrated and unfairly criticised.

    The power of the media in this country to make or break a player's reputation is shown by the fact that every single time Forlan appears in a game shown here live there seems to be this general amazement that he is, er, playing well and scoring goals. He has done that throughout his career, apart from that spell at Old Trafford when it was the only time he wasn't guaranteed a first team place.

  • Comment number 18.

    17. At 3:37pm on 05 Jul 2010, Subterranean wrote:
    Not sure I agree completely but he was a fans favourite, unlike Berbatov for example, so he must have been doing something right at United. But I agree that if given the main role it might have been a different story.

  • Comment number 19.

    Uruguay have to be one of the main stories of this tournament and yes i think they can beat the dutch!
    Players like Abreu seem to bit an important part of the squad even if it is, like you said, more of a character thing rather than on the pitch. I often think that of someone like Joe Cole - good to have in the camp perhaps and that does in fact count for quite a lot in tournament football. Perhaps that is the real adjustment England have always failed to make. It's one thing transfering league form into national success (see qualification results) but how to approach a tournament is different again. Would Bullard help lighten the tense mood and perhaps score a couple of free kicks?
    My friend in Montevideo says that everyone is going crazy for the team in Uruguay and they all love the character of the players. How I wish we could say that about any of the English team! Even before the Ghana match it was decided that the nation would go and welcome them home at the airport!
    It's going to be a wonderful match, I think without suarez the dutch might just have the edge but i'd love it that bit more if uruguay could beat them. Isn't the world cup just magical...

  • Comment number 20.

    At 18. The 27 games referred to in the blog before he scored were not full matches.

    I think Forlan was popular with Utd fans because of his 2 goals at Anfield in a 2-1 win there, and because his style is to cover his shirt with sweat, which english fans like. Even when he was missing chances or miscontrolling the ball, the Utd fans could forgive him because he was seen to work hard.

    Alan Smith was not as talented as Forlan or Berbatov, but many Man Utd fans still liked him because he worked hard.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's certainly up for grabs. We need the non-heroes to take their place in history as the 'legends' so miserably failed...

  • Comment number 22.

    Why is it that you can use the word "thrash" but not "destroy" on these boards?

    Also I've lost count at the number of times in the last week that I've tried to click on a story only to get "Page Cannot be Displayed". get it sorted BBC. (This has happened at least 10 times so far....)

  • Comment number 23.

    I am amazed at the naivety of people and "experts" who claim that Suarez "cheated". What he did was no more cheating than the last defender fouling the striker who is through on goal - you get a red card and the opposing side gets a penalty. The only reason this is being talked about is that the probability of a goal being scored if he hadn't committed the offence was nearly 100% in this case, and maybe 90% in the other case. But then, what is the probability at which this becomes "cheating" from a "professional foul"? Who makes the judgment call?

    This also goes to the calls made for FIFA to allow penalty goals in situations like these. Can anyone imagine the can of worms that will open? The referee will have to make a decision about this - imagine a scenario where Suarez is a foot off the line and there is another defender next to him. Can the ref say with 100% certainty that the other guy could not have headed the ball away if Suarez had let it go? What if the striker is fouled 5 feet in front of an open goal? Should that be a penalty goal? What if the striker is Yakubu against South Korea?

    A goal is a goal if it crosses the line, end of story. (And they should absolutely use goal-line technology to determine that).

  • Comment number 24.

    From the moment this chap came on I thought Uruguay were in danger of losing the game. He was just running around & IMO he almost missed that pen. Uruguay would do well to leave him out.

  • Comment number 25.

    Life is weird.
    Way back when I was living in Buenos Aires, I discovered that Charlton were looking at Abreu. As a Charlton supporter I thought I would find out if he was any good, but no-one had a good word for him. Inconsistent was the main comment.
    Judging from this article he would have not got on with Curbs.
    The British helped establish Uruguay as a sort of "buffer" state between Brazil and Argentina, and is is great see them succeeding where the "bigger" brothers have failed.
    I have lived in Amsterdam so should really support the Netherlands, but think that it will be a defensive game settled by whoever's strikers are most dangerous on the day.

  • Comment number 26.

    Maybe someone could comment on the flagrant offside two ghanan players were in before the hand ball happened. the whole hand ball story and that penalty and suarez's red card are illegal. the whole play was illegal. players were offside.

  • Comment number 27.

    The problem with Suarez is not that he acted instinctively or that any other player might have done the same thing - or that the punishment fit the crime etc... etc...

    It has been his smug, crass, self congratulatory attitude since it happened that makes me hope they get spanked to pieces in the semi. No class, no dignity, no humility - even Henri managed to 'appear' to be appalled by what his handball did to the Irish - and look at the justice that they got handed down. It was a joy to watch (I can only imagine how well their demise went down in the bars of Derry!)

    I hope to see Uruguay suffer the same fate and maybe that will give the spoilt, indulgent cheat Suarez a little pause for thought..

    ... something that all footballers need now more than ever...

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm sorry that Uruguay have been sullied by the infamous 'Hand of God 2'. They've been well organised throughout and have some devastating forwards who have scored some wonderful goals. What now befalls them is their traditional role of villains rather than being celebrated as South America's sole representatives.

  • Comment number 29.

    I like Uruguay. And I hope they beat the Dutch. Who are very dirty.

    But they won't.

    Uruguay have only got as far as they have got because of an easy draw; once through the group they have had to face the USA and Ghana. Not the toughest of teams. Even so, they only scraped by.

    Nope. The Dutch will beat them quite comfortably.


  • Comment number 30.

    A bit more research please... the penalty Abreu scored in the same way in the final of the Rio State torunament was not its first. Maybe the most notorious one was in the semifinal of the last South American Cup against Brasil... the ball slowly flew until it hit the horizontal post and landend in the goal while Julio Cesar could only watch from the ground. Classic!

    In Uruguay people are quite baffled by how little prepared the Ghana goalkeeper seemed to be for the penalty kicks.... we all feared he was going to take the penalty like that, and it was quite funny to listen to th announcers in the radio and TV pleading for Abreu not to be a 'loco' just that time!

  • Comment number 31.

    "Yet there is no doubt that he himself had been centre stage."

    Sorry but Saurez is centre stage IMO. Without Saurez's cynical handball Abreu would not have had the chance to do a fancy penalty, would he?

  • Comment number 32.

    Also the media in this country were very quick to criticise and make him a figure of fun when he didn't become a regular starter and scorer. What you've got to remember is that they weren't just after Forlan, it was about criticising Ferguson for making a 'flop signing' as well. Hence Forlan became underrated and unfairly criticised.

    Its not just in England. In Italy, Henry and Viera were considered rubbish, rubbish , rubbish who only fools (the English) who did not know about football could buy.
    The rest is history..

  • Comment number 33.

    Now then - many thanks for all your comments.

    Moving along from Suarez's handball, if I followed Uruguay I think I would be concerned that his absence on Tuesday evening will be keenly felt.

    The South American team had a fantastic group stage and then defeated South Korea and Ghana. If they can defeat a Netherlands side that have just knocked out Brazil then fair play to them....

    ppKlvs (post 30), of course, but the relevance of the latest one is that Kingson really ought to have seen it and been able to prepare accordingly.

  • Comment number 34.

    Every time I see the Suarez hand ball, I think he could have in fact headed the ball as his hands are in front of his face and obviously the ball was dipping all the time. It was an instinctive action to throw his hands up but had they not been there I think he could have headed it away easily.

  • Comment number 35.

    After the initial first part of the WOrld Cup where few had doubts that the World Cup wouldn't be won by a South American team, isn't it strange that the only surviving team from this continent is the one that qualified last and in fact placed 5th in their group? Despite this I believe that the Dutch are stronger and should qualify from this semi-final and carry on to become the first European team to win the World Cup outside Europe.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    As an Uruguayan, we are truly concerned because of Suarez red card. More over cause he plays in Holland.
    But anyway, the country is crazy about this world cup, and Suarez is regarded as a hero (a thing any footballer in the world understands). We hope our team play the perfect match to reach the final. If not, Uruguay team already delivered the goods, and no one here will greave.

    Yes, Holland has the better team for starters, but that´s just in theory, we´ll see in practice.

    Vamos la celeste CARAJO!!!

  • Comment number 38.

    Hi there

    Abreu is past it, but has a vital team/group building role as well as coming out of the bench for critical moments. Remember he scored the last uruguayan goal in the Costa Rica play off.

    Sadly the dutch seem poised to win this match, but NEVER count Uruguay out, NEVER.

    I'm half uruguayan, half english, lived in both countries and I'm amazed on how the British press (fans as well?) believe that English football is the moral reserve of the game. If you watch Premier League matches or other almost everyone tries to trick the referee. That happens everywhere. Suárez illegal handball was NOT a cheat. It amounts to a tactical foul, it is never comparable to the Hand of God or Henry's.

    Best, Thomas.

  • Comment number 39.

    Oh, and almost everybody here knew El Loco would kick that penalty that way, it gave you goose gumps in anticipation!! lovely!

  • Comment number 40.

    Paul - Some of us don't want to move on from Saurez's handball. Why are there two blogs today about Uraguay that try to sweep it under the carpet.

    @34 I agree about being able to head it or at least get something in the way legitimately. Who was the other guy on the line? He was trying to handle it too so it looks like a deliberate policy to me.

  • Comment number 41.


    The definition of cheating which comes from a dictionary includes "unsporting play" as cheating. Call it a 'tactical foul' if you like but it is still cheating.

    I'm not saying the Uragyans are the only perpetrators of such cynicism, in fact you see it in the EPL every week, but they way Saurez is lauded for it is disgusting.

    Shame on football "the dirty game"

  • Comment number 42.


    The definition of cheating which comes from a dictionary includes "unsporting play" as cheating. Call it a 'tactical foul' if you like but it is still cheating.

    I'm not saying the Uragyans are the only perpetrators of such cynicism, in fact you see it in the EPL every week, but they way Saurez is lauded for it is disgusting.


    Yes it's cheating, but he was punished for it. Going on about it doesn't change anything. The rules are as they are, and he was punished according to those rules. What more could the referee have done? He punished him to the fullest extent.

    Personally I'm rooting for the Dutch tonight, just to see a Holland v Germany final. Although, I also have Spain in the work sweepstakes, so I stand to win some money if Spain win...I'm so confused!

  • Comment number 43.

    A comment on 40.

    If that referee had nodded happily as the ghanian players broke Lodeiro's foot, jumped on Lugano to see him off, piggybacked Fucile to try to kill him, marked a foul for a ghanian dive, not seen two offside ghanian players, if he had tried to head it (he had just kneed out a previous -offside- shot), if he had headed it he would have been ruled to be inside the goal line. Good for him, and Benquerenza should have his salary paid by FIFA for a job well done, in spite of the final result. In fact, a number of idiots are still bleating about the ball being inside, even though the sky camera clearly shows that that did not happen.

    On the other hand, if you are 24 and someone missed a penalty against your team in the 121 minute, which resulted from a vitiated play granted by a twisted referee, would you go to church for confession or holler your head off?

    Africans are not at this stage, because their teams were not good, resilient, etc.. enough. Having european TDs is a huge mistake, imagine a japanese TD trying to work out the irish national team, and trying to convince them that they should play patiently against England, that they should give up Guinness, God forbid! Imagine the Big White Man coming over (and cashing in a dirty amount of money for it), he talks through a translator, and does not know who is an Ibo or Muslim or nothing. 3 months to do it. Idiotic.

  • Comment number 44.

    Dry your eyes whingers. The man did the crime, tonight he will do the time. The punsishmant is appropriate and just.

    If football was mechanical and formulaic, we wouldn't love it. You are meant to get emotional about the game you love but not to the extend that you throw all football logic out the window.

    Get over it!

  • Comment number 45.

    We are still obsessed by Suarez ! A man who broke the rules and was punished according to those rules .End of story ?? But what about Neuer ? Why isnt he being charged by FIFA for unsporting / ungentlemanly cheating behaviour ? The only man in the World who instantly knew that the ball had crossed his line and yet he picked up the ball from behind his line and put it back into play to deliberately confuse and deceive the 4 officials gambling that they were all blind sided or unsighted (or partially sighted ? ). If the officials had not seen Suarez's action --and such oversights have happened many many times --there would be little difference between the 2 situations except that the one would undoubtedly have received TV prompted post match punishment and the other ? Has he not committed any offence against football rules ? And if not shouldnt there be a rule to cover such behaviour ?

  • Comment number 46.

    Did Neuer know?

    IF (because it's in the Daily Mail) the above is true he should be punished for bringing the game into disrepute.

    However he would not have admitted it if he thought he'd get punished.

    It's not as blatent as Saurez's action.

    Saurez and Uraguay were punished according to the law. The law should be changed so a penalty goal is awarded rather than a penalty kick. I think the sanction against the player should be heavier than it is at moment because such actions bring the game into disrepute. If FIFA were serious about fair-play they would review video evidence of cheating and other unsporting behaviour and hand out bans where applicable.

    Due to the speed of the game and the time-constraints due to TV etc. it will never be possible to catch all wrongdoing during the game but if the players knew they might get a ban and/or fine after review for any cheating they'd think twice. Think diving. Think exagerating contact. Think deliberate handball (a few have mentioned Luis Fabiano). Deliberate 'tactical' fouls are also a form of cheating even when there's no deception. I'm sure people could think of others too. Some events are not as clear-cut like offsides and appealing for throws/corners etc.

  • Comment number 47.

    The famous Abreu spot kick was a tricky effort by the Uruguayan penalty specialist on the World Cup stage. Many youngsters will try to practice and perfect that sort of technique to get the goal keeper running away before they bury the ball in the unguarded net. Goal keepers cannot afford to ignore the Abreu effect from the dreaded spot. Watched a few past Abreu taken spot kicks and all of them were fabulous.

    Nice blog Paul. Thanks.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho


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