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Saturday, June 26, 2010
Sum of the parts is pretty solid

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- At times, living up to its rich World Cup history seemed like an impossible task for the Uruguayans.

Not anymore.

After a thrilling 2-1 victory over South Korea, the Uruguayans are moving on to the quarterfinals, having won their first knockout stage game in 40 years. Although Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was only three years old in 1950 when Uruguay won its second Cup, the significance of equaling the achievements of the previous Uruguayan World Cup winners -- they also won in 1930 on their home soil -- isn't lost on him or his young team.

"We're among the best teams in the world," Tabarez said, "but we still can't believe it because it's been such a long time."

Some regard the World Cup as the Brazil Invitational, but Uruguay's play in the tournament shows that it should be mentioned as a serious contender to win the World Cup.

For one, Uruguay has one of the hottest scorers in the world in Luis Suarez, who is making quite a name for himself in South Africa. Suarez scored a pair of goals against South Korea, including a memorable strike in the 80th minute that clinched Uruguay's win.

"It was the most important goal of my career," said the budding 23-year-old Suarez, who has tallied three goals in four matches and is tied for the tournament lead.

Suarez's sizzling start has given Uruguay a dynamic duo of sorts. Although Suarez, who is playing in his first World Cup, is grabbing the headlines, it can't be forgotten that Uruguay also has Diego Forlan, who won Europe's Golden Shoe honor for scoring the most goals during the 2008-09 season. Forlan, who is 31, has scored two goals so far in the World Cup on chances that undoubtedly have been created by Suarez's presence. Forlan continues an impressive family legacy, with his father, Pablo, having played in three World Cups.

"We've been dreaming since the tournament started," Suarez said. "A World Cup is a World Cup. We're all on an even playing field. Some teams started off as favorites, but my team is ready to fight for wonderful things."

Aside from being a team that has the luxury of having two gifted scorers and fielding a defense that has yielded just one goal, Tabarez credited the team's unity as a major strength. Like other World Cup teams, Uruguay has many players who spend a significant amount of time playing abroad for other teams. But the lack of time together obviously hasn't been an issue.

"We have great harmony," said Tabarez, who was once a teacher. "We stick together. We're very, very united. I don't want to elaborate further because I wouldn't want you think that I'm exaggerating. I don't want to sound cocky, but I think that's a very good weapon in taking on any team."

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.