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Uruguay's Forlan tearing through the World Cup

When Uruguay meet Germany in the 2010 FIFA World Cup's third place play-off game on Saturday, one player with little left to prove will be Diego Forlan, the star of the South American team's stunning campaign.

Uruguay's Diego Forlan celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Uruguay and the Netherlands at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, July 6, 2010.

Forlan caps an impressive year with his form at the World Cup

Whatever happens in Saturday's third place play-off game, the Uruguay team will return home as heroes after putting in the best performance by their nation at a World Cup for 40 years. One player in particular will step off the plane in Montevideo with his reputation dramatically enhanced: Diego Forlan.

Forlan is more than Uruguay's playmaker, stand-in captain and best player. He is their talisman. It may be a matter for debate but it could be argued that it was Forlan alone who inspired Uruguay to performances at the World Cup that other small nations could only dream of.

While other more celebrated stars were wilting under the pressure in between bouts of complaining of tiredness after a long season, Forlan showed that even with 67 games under his belt he still had the will and desire to lead one of the unfancied teams at the tournament to heights rarely scaled since the days of Uruguay's 1950 World Cup win.

Uruguay's Diego Forlan kicks the ball to score a goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Uruguay and the Netherlands at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, July 6, 2010.

Forlan's goals from distance show he is one of the few stars who've been able to master the Jubalani

Playing off main striker Luis Suarez in his favored position between midfield and attack, Forlan has shown throughout the tournament that he values every moment he is given playing in the shirt of La Celeste. At 31, his chances to win something with his nation are certainly running out and the almost desperate way he applies himself in every game suggests he is battling the passage of time itself. His three 'Man of the Match' performances are testament to his dedication to the cause.

While his exploits in South Africa will have added to his growing status as one of the best attackers in the world, the experience of having superlatives hurled at him is not a new one for Diego Forlan. But it wasn't always like this. The striker has known as many bad times as good and as such is unlikely to allow the latest round of praise and attention go to his head.

From figure of fun to world class striker

In the light of his recent successes in club football, it may be difficult to imagine Forlan as a figure of fun but before his career took off, the Uruguayan very nearly sunk without trace before it even began.

Diego Forlan as a Manchester United player

Forlan's terrible form earned him the name Diego Forlorn

After following in his grandfather's shoes by playing for Independiente in Argentina, the then 23-year old Forlan moved to the English Premiership in 2002, signing for Manchester United in an 8.2 million euro ($10.3m) deal.

The form which prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to bring Forlan to Old Trafford, however, deserted him on arrival. It took him eight months and 27 games to score his first goal and his woeful return led to sections of the British press dubbing him "Diego Forlorn." Despite winning the English title with Man United in the 2002/03 season, Forlan was sold to Villareal in 2004 with his reputation in tatters. He was seen as a joke, a failure.

However, an amazing rehabilitation took place during his first season in Spain. Forlan ended the campaign as the top scorer in La Liga and shared the 2004/5 European Golden Boot award with Thierry Henry. Forlan's form also led the Yellow Submarine into the Champions League for the first time in their history.

Forlan hits the heights with Atletico Madrid

Forlan moved on to Atletico Madrid in 2007 to fill the striking vacancy created by local hero Fernando Torres's departure to Liverpool. The Uruguayan proved to be an inspired signing and in the 2008/09 season, he was once again the top scorer in Spain with 32 goals in 33 matches, as well as winning the European Golden Boot for a second time.

Atletico's Diego Forlan, left, celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the soccer Europa League final between Atletico Madrid and FC Fulham in the arena in Hamburg, Germany, on Wednesday, May 12, 2010.

Forlan's two goals won the Europa League final for Atletico

Forlan has gone from strength to strength at Atletico and was an integral part of the team that won last season's Europa League title, scoring both of Madrid's goals in the 2-1 defeat of Fulham in the final.

This has certainly been Forlan's best year of his career, leading his club to European glory and his country to the last four of the World Cup. He now has the job of leading Uruguay to a potential third place finish in South Africa with victory over Germany in Port Elizabeth - if he can shake off the thigh injury which led to him being substituted in the semi-final against the Dutch.

Goal scoring exploits put Diego in the shop window

It's even possible that he could finish the tournament with another accolade if he can add to his World Cup tally against the Germans. Forlan currently has four goals, equal to Germany's Miroslav Klose who he will face on Saturday, and has maintained during the tournament his scoring average of a goal in every 2.5 games for Uruguay. His other main rivals, five-goal stars Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands and Spain's David Villa, meet in the final on Sunday.

Uruguay's Diego Forlan celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Uruguay and Ghana at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010.

Europe's top clubs will be looking to poach Forlan but the striker says he's happy at Atletico Madrid

It's unsurprising given the impact he has had in South Africa that suitors will soon come calling for his services. Tottenham Hotspur and even his old club Manchester United are rumored to be interested in bringing him back to England from Spain but Forlan has said that he is committed to Atletico Madrid.

Anyone witnessing Forlan's commitment at the World Cup will know that this means the Uruguayan star is going nowhere.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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