thumbnail Hello,'s KS Leong hails the Charruas despite failing to clinch third place.

Uruguay will leave South Africa and return to Montevideo as heroes.

Even before Saturday night’s pulsating 3-2 defeat to Germany in the bronze medal playoff game, Oscar Tabarez and his brave troops had already exceeded all expectations following their commendable run to the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup.

The 3-2 loss somewhat summed up La Celeste’s World Cup campaign: a tournament full of highs and lows, ups and downs, heroes and villains. They have never had it easy throughout the championships, and you just have to admire the persistence and tenacity of the team - a team that only just scraped into South Africa, but have out-lasted their fellow South Americans, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina.

They have had to battle hard to book their place in the playoff game. They had to slog through South Korea in the last-16 in treacherous weather; claw back from a goal down against Ghana in the quarter-finals, which they came within seconds of being dumped out; they again had to rally from behind in the semi-finals against the Netherlands as they fought all the way to the final whistle only to lose 3-2; and then of course they came back from a goal down to momentarily take a 2-1 lead against mighty Germany.

The irony of the playoff game is that the bar, which had helped out the Uruguayans against Ghana, this time denied them a chance to take the playoff match into extra-time when Diego Forlan’s sumptuously struck freekick right at the death pinged off the woodwork. Despite the near miss, the Charruas can be proud of their campaign.

Forlan has been one of the undisputed stars of the tournament. The Atletico Madrid hitman appears to be the only player who really has been able to tame and master the Jabulani beach ball, scoring one humdinger after another in South Africa and coming close on several other occasions. If this professional football thing doesn’t work out for him, he can always open a football clinic.

But it’s not just Forlan who has epitomised Uruguay’s brave spirit and never-say-die attitude. From the fiery Jorge Fucile to the tireless warrior Egidio Arevalo to the controversial Luis Suarez, hero in his homeland, villain in South Africa, all of them have played their part in ensuring La Celeste clinch their best finish at a World Cup finals since 1970.

Then there’s goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who made two saves in the penalty shoot-out win over Ghana, but had a none-too-convincing game against the Netherlands and a miserable outing against the Germans. But his countrymen will salute him for taking them to the semi-finals in the first place.

Uruguay, the first ever winners of the World Cup, have long suffered failed campaigns in the finals and disastrous qualifying programmes. And for a nation who didn’t even qualify for the 2006 edition, they have come a long, long way to finish a respectable fourth in 2010.

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