The history of the World Cup is replete with tales of epic encounters. In 1950, Uruguay drove an ice-cold dagger into the footballing heart of Brazil when they lifted the trophy after beating the Seleção in the infamous Maracanazo. Twenty years later West Germany faced Italy in the 1970 semi-final as the two teams slugged it out like exhausted heavyweight boxers across a merciless 30 minutes of extra-time under the relentless Mexican sun. A dozen years later, the Azzurri featured in that epic contest against the Brazil of Socrates and Zico. In the same competition the gloriously artistic French team of Platini, Girese, Tigana et al, were denied by the Teutonic efficiency of West Germany, aided by the scurrilously unpunished aggression of Toni Schumacher.
Few of those games can, however, match up to the star billing that lit up the game when the World Champions, and undefeated holders of the crown for some 24 years, faced up to the 1952 Olympic Champions, a team on an unbeaten run of three-and-half years, almost 50 games and averaging four goals per game. It wasn’t Superman v Batman, or the Avengers Civil War, but it was getting there when, in the 1954 World Cup, Uruguay faced Hungary.
The early stages of the tournament had already indicated the sort of form that the Hungarians, so many people’s strong favourites to lift the trophy, were in. The previous year, they had visited Wembley and inflicted that humbling 3-6 defeat on the team that considered itself invulnerable to foreign opposition when playing at home. Then, in the final game before the tournament began, the Hungarians franked that form and underscored the new world order by thrashing England 7-1 in Budapest. It was the sort of form they carried into the tournament. In just two group games they amassed no less than 17 goals, defeating South Korea 9-0 and then West Germany 8-3, although the Germans would take revenge later.
Uruguay had suffered the relative humiliation of finishing in third place in the 1953 Copa America, when an unexpected defeat to Chile had cost them a place in the final. They still retained many of the players who had been successful in retaining their crown in Brazil four years earlier though, including forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino, soon to become subject of a world record transfer fee when moving from Peñarol to AC Milan following the tournament’s end, and their dominating centre half and captain, Obdulio Varela. The World Cup offered Uruguay an opportunity to reassert their global supremacy. The South Americans had been a little recalcitrant in comparison to the goal glut of the Hungarians, amassing just the nine goals in their couple of group games. Scotland felt the sharp edge of the South Americans’ frustration, conceding seven times without reply after Czechoslovakia had restricted La Celeste to a mere two strikes.
In the quarter-finals, the Hungarians scored another four goals, conceding two in reply against Brazil in the infamous Battle of Bern, and the Uruguayans matched the Magical Magyars toll when facing England in their last eight tie, albeit in much less rancorous circumstances. It meant that when the two teams faced off with each of their pedigrees looking like a CV that any team would die for, Hungary had won their three games by scoring 21 goals, an average of seven per game, and conceded five, two of which had been late goals by the Germans when trailing 7-1 and 8-2. The World Cup holders had scored 13 times in their three games and conceded just three times. In fairness though, this World Cup tournament was hardly a study in defensive expertise, with goals flowing. In the quarter-finals, Austria defeated Switzerland 7-5, after being three goals down, before losing to West Germany 6-1 in the semi-finals. By the time the two behemoths met in Lausanne’s Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, on 30 June, the 45,000 spectators were expecting to be royally entertained. They wouldn’t be disappointed.
As well as a contrast between two teams, each with arguably logical claims to being the planet’s foremost footballing power, the game would also inevitably feature a clash of cultures as the South American pattern of play rubbed up against the dynamic Hungarian system. At the time, with intercontinental travel still a major problem there was precious little interaction between teams from the different continents and World Cups were serially won by teams from the host hemisphere. Brazil’s victory in Sweden at the 1958 tournament was the only time this trend was bucked, arguably until Brazil’s 2002 victory in Japan. There was therefore still a measure of mystery when teams clashed in this manner.
The Hungarian pattern, playing with what has latterly been termed as a ‘False Nine’ usually in the guise of the astute Nándor Hidegkuti, predating any kind of assumed tactical genius of Guardiola’s Barcelona around fifty years later, was a key innovation. The ploy created space in the midfield and fluid attacking options. Although the tactic invariably provoked problems for opponents – not least England whose defence had been torn asunder by the rampant Hungarians – the Uruguayans had the players with flexibility to counter the move. Varela would be absent through injury, and replaced by Néstor Carballo who, similar to his captain would not feel out of place advancing to close down a deep-lying opponent.
Hungary were also denied the services of their captain, with Ferenc Puskás also on the injured list. His absence however did allow coach Gusztav Sebes to bring in Peter Palotás, who had played in the Hidegkuti role. As the two dropped deeper, space was opened in the middle for the likes of Zoltán Czibor to exploit, with the Uruguayan centre half drawn out of position. It would lead to the opening goal of the game, as the rain poured down, slicking up the playing surface.
In their previous three games, Hungary had been quick out of the blocks to try and establish a domination of the game and an early lead. Against South Korea, Puskás had scored after a dozen minutes, Consequential games would make that strike appear tardy. Against West Germany Sándor Kocsis had netted the first of his four goals of the game with just three minutes on the clock. The early strike rate was then maintained against Brazil as Hidegkuti gave the cherry-shirted Europeans the lead after four minutes. It was a ploy that Sebes insisted on against Uruguay as well.
In the Uruguayan goal, Roque Máspoli, was in for a busy first dozen minutes or so. First Palotás tested the vastly experienced Peñarol goalkeeper drawing a sharp save from the 36- year-old, and then Jozsef Bozsik, standing in as skipper for the absent Puskás, and somewhat controversially allowed to play in this game despite being dismissed in the battle against Brazil, fired narrowly wide. The nearest to an early goal came from Hidegkuti. Shooting from a tight angle, his effort scraped past the post with Máspoli beaten and Czibor in presumptuously celebratory mode, before reality and anguish subdued his ardour.
When the twelfth minute arrived without a breakthrough for the Europeans, Uruguayan coach Juan Lopez may well have been relieved as his side eased their way into the game, but a goal was imminent. The deep-lying Hidegkuti had found his usual parcel of space in midfield and picked out Kocsis with a neat lofted pass. Spotting the penetrating run of Czibor, the Honvéd forward who would later escape the invasion of his country by the Soviet Union to achieve legendary status in Barcelona, nodded the ball into the Uruguay penalty area for his team-mate to run onto. With his marker befuddled by the move, Czibor collected and shot from around 12 yards. His effort was scuffed however and surely should have been saved, but somehow Máspoli contrived to allow the ball to bobble past his outstretched hand and into the net. The Hungarians were ahead.
Perhaps sated by the strike or lulled into a false sense of security by the memory of how so many of their opponents had folded after falling behind to an early goal, and undoubtably to Sebes’s great chagrin, the Hungarians seemed to ease off from their busy start and Uruguay found a way back into the game. In contrast to the Hungarians fluid play, the South Americans sought to open up their opponents’ back line with astute passes and runs into space. Now with more possession than in the opening period, Uruguayan compelled the defensive pairing of Mihály Lantos and Gyula Lóránt to demonstrate their calm assurance, although they were often compelled to merely hack clear under pressure, and goalkeeper Gyula Grosics was frequently required to advance from his line to follow suit when passes evaded the duo. Probably the best chance to equalise fell to Schiaffino when he managed to go around Grosics in the area, but then failed to get off an effective shot.
After the ebullient opening from Hungary, the game was now fairly even as Uruguay pressed to level. The Hungarians lacked little in comparison though and their intricate play opened up chances as well. A goal for either side would be crucial in the way the fortunes of the game swayed back and forth. It nearly came when a cross from the left found Kocsis unmarked around ten yards from goal. His header was powerful but poorly directed towards the centre of the goal, and Máspoli leapt to divert it over the bar with his left hand. There were no more goals before the break and both teams retired to their dressing rooms to take on board the words of wisdom from the respective coaches.
Uruguay began the second-half, but if Lopez had emphasised the importance of not conceding early again, the advice was not heeded. Honvéd winger László Budai had been selected to play in place of the injured József Tóth, and during the first period, his pacey and tricky runs down the flank had been a thorn in the side of the Uruguayans, but inside 60 seconds of the restart, his play brought some tangible reward. A cross to the far post found
Hidegkuti hurling himself forwards to head powerfully past Máspoli and double the lead. Clearly shaken by the setback, Uruguay were like a dazed boxer on the ropes as Hungary pressed for another goal that would surely kill off the game. Shots rained in, but in contrast to his early error for the opening goal, Máspoli defied all of their efforts, and kept his team clinging on to a fingertip hold in the game. A penalty claim for a clumsy challenge on Hidegkuti looked to have merit, but Welsh referee Benjamin Griffiths was unconvinced.
Slowly clearing their heads, Uruguay demonstrated the resilience and refusal to bend the knee under the severest pressure that had seen them come back from a goal down in front of nearly 200,000 wildly partisan Brazilians in the Estádio do Maracanã four years earlier. Even without the driving force of their absent skipper and totemic leader, Varela, this was a team of character and no little ability. They were undefeated reigning champions of the world. With the elusive and slippery skills of Schiaffino becoming more of a factor as the game progressed and energy levels dropped, Uruguay showed they were anything but a beaten team, and with 15 minutes remaining, a Javier Ambrois pass eventually found chink in the Hungarian back line and Juan Hohberg strode forward to coolly slot home and bring his team right back into the game. Although born in Córdoba, Argentina, Hohberg was a naturalised Uruguayan and as his shot rolled past Groscis’s left hand and into the net, the whole nation celebrated that fact.
It was now game on, and for the remaining minutes, the Hungarian defence would be put under increasing amounts of pressure. Despite their flowing forward play, defence was often the disguised Achille’s Heel of the Magyar team. Usually their forwards would score more than they conceded to minimise the effect of the less than perfect back line, but in Uruguay, they were playing against anything other than ‘usual’ opponents. Schiaffino was now in his pomp, prodding and probing for any other gap that could be exploited as the Hungarian defence battled to retain what had looked like a comfortable winning position.
With just four minutes remaining, the dam finally broke as Hohberg again found space to break into the area and dribble around Groscis. Racing back to defend however, both Lantos and Jenő Buzansky had took advantage of the delay caused by the goalkeeper’s challenge to drop back onto the line. Calmness personified, Hohberg merely paused before picking his spot high into the net beyond any despairing challenge. Hungarian head in hands. Uruguayan arms raised in both relief and celebration. It would surely be extra-time now with the South American wave of momentum poised to wash Hungarian dreams away.
With both teams comfortably winning their earlier games, albeit somewhat violently for the Europeans in their game against Brazil, neither team were used to being extended into an extra thirty minutes to decide a game. In such circumstances it is often resilience and resolve that decides the issue, rather than any particular outstanding piece of skill. With the reigining champions feeling that the game was there for the taking, they continued to press and Hohberg nearly completed a hat-trick when his shot deceived Groscis before striking the post. Even then, the goalkeeper was compelled to recover and throw himself forward to block a Schiaffino follow-up and divert the ball for a corner with his feet. Hungary were forced to replicate the application that Uruguay had shown when two goals down and the game seemingly slipping away from them. There’s a time for effervescent forward paly, and there’s a time to lock down and reassess. For the remainder of the first period of extra-time, Hungary opted for the latter. The decision would serve them well.
On 16 November 2005, in Sydney’s Telstra Stadium, John Aloisi, late of Coventry City and Portsmouth, among many other clubs, but at the time plying his trade with Alavés in Spain’s Basque country, held the fate of his nation’s footballing aspirations in his hands. Donned in the gold shirt of Australia’s Socceroos, he stood a little more than twelve yards from the goal line policed by Uruguay’s ‘keeper, Fabián Carini. The next few seconds would decide if the upstart Aussies would go to the 2006 World Cup Finals. If Aloisi could convert his spot kick, there was nothing that La Celeste, twice crowned as champions of the world, could do about it. Australia would be in Germany, and the South Americans would miss out. Continue reading →
Whilst the names of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani would, in all probability, be the initial responses to any request to name the top Uruguayan strikers, surely close behind would come Diego Forlán – and if he doesn’t, he certainly should. Appearing for La Celeste, Suarez scored 55 goals, with Cavani netting 46. Not far behind though is Forlán with 36. As with the other two strikers, as well as succeeding in South America, Forlán made his name in a number of Europe’s top leagues where competition is fierce, and goals are at a premium. From there trips to Japan, back to South America and then India and Hong Kong with an accompanying chorus of goals showed that regardless of location, league and language, putting the ball into the back of the net is of universal value.
Diego Forlán was born in May 1979 in Montevideo and, after beginning his professional career in Argentina, he would play in the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, scoring goals as he went. He would also be awarded the FIFA Golden Ball as the best player in the 2010 World Cup, and become his country’s most capped player. Any discussion of Uruguay’s top strikers must surely include Diego Forlán, and a closer examination of his career merely underscores that assertion.
A four-season spell with Independiente set the ball rolling. Although he only played a couple of games in his first season there, without troubling the scorers, across the following three seasons, Forlán built a reputation as a regular goalscorer, with a rate of finding the net that improved as he went along. Seven goals from 24 games was decent if hardly spectacular in 1999-2000, but this improved to 20 in 42 games and then 13 in just 23. It was enough to persuade Sir Alex Ferguson to take him to Manchester United.
The transfer may not have done the striker any favours. Dropping into the rough and tumble of Premier League football can be an unsettling time for any player and as this was Forlán’s first playing experience outside of South America, it’s perhaps not surprising that he didn’t flourish. Despite that and a return of just 17 goals in a shade less than a century of appearances, he still collected a Premier League winner’s medal in 2002-03 season and an FA Cup winner’s medal the following year. If the English game may not have suited the talents of the Uruguayan, his next move was certainly more to his taste.
Moving to La Liga, and returning to a more familiar culture with a language he was comfortable with, produced probably the best and certainly most productive period of Forlán’s career. Joining Villareal in 2004, he struck top form immediately, scoring an outstanding 25 goals in 39 games across all competitions. As well as the goals lifting the club into third place and a debut season in the Champions League, it took the Intertoto Cup to Villareal. Forlán won the Pichichi award for the league’s top scorer, and shared the UEFA Golden Shoe as the top scorer across the continent. He was also awarded the Trofeo given to the top Latin player in La Liga for the season. If Old Trafford had been a downturn, the Yellow Submarine was certainly no dive for Diego Forlán. Villareal were hardly one of the premier clubs in Spain, and to be the country’s leading marksman when playing for them was remarkable.
Unsurprisingly, as his reputation grew, defences were paying more attention to the Uruguayan striker and in the following season his strike rate dipped a little, netting 13 goals from 47 games. His situation wasn’t helped by disruption at the cub. The next season would be a real test, but form and goals returned as he secured a highly respectable 21 strikes at a rate of a goal every other game. It was enough to see him catapulted into an almost impossible position.
In June 2007, no longer able to resist the money offered by the Premier League, Atlético Madrid sold Fernando Torres to Liverpool, and decided that Diego Forlán was the man to replace him at the Vicente Calderón. A fee of €21 million was agreed and the Uruguayan had the mammoth task of making the loss of El Niño appear insignificant. No pressure then!
Although adjusting to a different club and a new way of playing under the individualistic promptings of Diego Simeone, 23 goals in his first season was entirely satisfactory, but in 2008-09, he would improve greatly on that as he and the team became more accustomed to each other. No less than 35 strikes in just 45 appearances took him to another Pichichi award and, this time, sole ownership of the European Golden Shoe. A further 28 goals the following season saw Atleti win the Europa League, with Forlán’s brace being the deciding factor in the win over Fulham. Understandably, he was named as UEFA Europa League Final Man of The Match.
In the summer, along with his Uruguayan colleagues, Forlán travelled to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. It would be one of the country’s most successful runs in the tournament of recent years, and a personal triumph for the striker. Uruguay would finish fourth, and as well as sharing the title of top scorer in the tournament, Forlán would be awarded the Golden Ballas the outstanding player, be selected for the FIFA Dream Team and his right-footed volley from the edge of the penalty area against Germany was judged the Goal of the Tournament.
Later, returning to club football, he would help Atlético win the UEFA Super Cup, defeating Inter Milan in the final. The new season however would see his worst goalscoring return in his time with the club. Ten goals in more than 40 games suggested a downturn. Now 32 years old, when Inter approached the Spanish club with a view to taking Forlán to Lombardy to replace the departing Samuel Eto’o, Simeone took the deal and Diego Forlán moved to his fourth different league, joining Serie A on a two-year deal. Unsurprisingly, given his age, he wouldn’t recapture the form and strike he enjoyed in Spain.
In that summer’s Copa América, held in Argentina, Forlán demonstrated that his abilities on the international stage hadn’t been dulled by the advancing years. He played in every game for Uruguay as La Celeste went through the tournament undefeated. Indeed, Forlán would net two of the three goals in the final that ensured the trophy would go to Montevideo.
After the summer of success, things started brightly enough in Serie A. On his debut for the Nerazzurri, Forlán scored in a 4-3 victory over Palermo. It would, however, be the high point of an otherwise disappointing and frustrating time for the striker. He would only score one more goal, and at the end of the season, Inter would release him from his second year. The player would lament his time with the club, explaining his lack of goals to being played out of position, and the expectations to be able to replace Eto’o as he had successfully done with Torres.
At 33, it was time to quit Europe, and release from the Nerazzurri contract led to a move from Internazionale in Italy’s Serie A to Internacional in Brazil’s Série A. A first season return of five goals in 19 games improved to 17 in 36 in the second year, but even in the less physically demanding Brazilian league, 35 year-old legs were finding it difficult, and an opportunity to travel to Japan offered a prospect of greater longevity with a move to Cerezo Osaka. It was hardly a successful experience. Despite scoring 17 times in his 18 months with the club, Osaka were relegated at the end of his first term there and then failed to regain their status. An emotional return to Peñarol, his boyhood club, offered a sentimental journey back home and an 18 month contract not only brought eight goals, it also led to the club lifting the championship trophy.
Despite the triumph, it had only been a brief agreement to play there, and in an emotional press conference afterwards, Forlán announced he would be leaving the club. Brief sojourns in India with Mumbai City and then Hong Kong with Kitchee followed – with five goals at each club – before he played his final professional game in May 2018, less than a week before his 39th birthday.
There’s little doubt that, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani are more celebrated as strikers in the modern game, but neither has ever won the FIFA World Cup Golden Boot. Diego Forlán has. It’s true that Suárez has won the UEFA Golden Shoe, as has Forlán, but Cavani has yet to achieve the accolade. Suárez has also won the Pichichi title once. Forlán did so on two occasions, and whilst Suárez achieved the title playing for a star-studded Barcelona team, Forlán won his whilst at Villareal and then when featuring for an Atlético Madrid side struggling to recover from the loss of Fernando Torres. So, perhaps if someone asks about the top Uruguayan striker, remember the career and achievements of Diego Forlán, the much travelled and most underrated of Uruguayan goal scorers
(This article was originally produced for the punditfeed.com website – https://punditfeed.com/nostalgia/diego-forlan-uruguay/)
After taking the job as manager of the national team in 1963, using calm, measured terms, and with an understated confidence bereft of any braggart posturing, Alf Ramsey publicly declared that England would win the World Cup in 1966. Not that they might, or that they could, or even that they should; but very definitely that they would. Those practised, clipped tones were simply stating facts. England will win the World Cup in 1966. And they did! Of course, with hindsight it doesn’t sound so much ‘out there’ but back in 1963, to use the modern vernacular it took some bottle. Ramsey had one key factor on his side though, he knew that by adding his ideas and a few new faces to the players bequeathed him by Walter Winterbottom he could turn England into the best team in the world and one of the greatest in World Cup history. Continue reading →
Juan Alberto Schiaffino was pretty much the embodiment of precisely what you would not expect a footballer to look like. Short and slender, with a pallor complexion, he could easily have passed for some someone in need of a good meal, rather than an outstanding athlete. Here was a player though that reached the very top of the football tree, and at the height of his powers, was deemed to be worth more money than any other player on the planet before him. Continue reading →
So said, Luiz Felipe Scolari, as he contemplated how a defeat, so unexpected, so demoralising, so contrary to the established order of things, would surely blight his career and reputation for evermore.
Pitted against the Hondurans in the quarter-final of the Copa America of 2001, Brazil would already have been planning their semi-final strategy ahead of the game. After all, Brazil were, in most people’s eyes, the stand-out squad at the tournament. In contrast, Honduras had only been invited to join the other teams in Colombia at the last minute – in fact the last seconds of the last minute – following Argentina’s late withdrawal. Consequently, they had precious little preparation time and their squad was shorn of a number of key players still engaged in domestic matters. Last minute guests to the party, they were under-prepared, under-manned and – as it turned out to Brazil’s cost – underestimated. Just how late the Hondurans’ invite to the party popped through their letterbox can be illustrated by a brief resume of the events prior to the tournament. Continue reading →