When the Uruguayan squad left their hotel in Kimberley to head for the World Cup quarter-final with Ghana in Johannesburg, staff and guards at the gate bid them farewell singing “Shosholoza.”
It is an old South African rail-gang song that has been adopted by soccer and rugby supporters and urges: “Go Forward, Go Forward.”
The gesture was all the more poignant as not only did Uruguay trounce hosts South Africa earlier in the tournament but they take on the sole surviving African side in today’s match.
Indeed, there has been an air of romance about Uruguay’s whole South African adventure led by former schoolteacher Oscar “El Maestro” Tabarez.
The glory days when they won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950 are but distant memories. The small nation of 3 million people has long been overshadowed in sporting and other fields by its gigantic neighbors Brazil and Argentina.
Now La Celeste have an opportunity of reaching the last four for the first time in 40 years while traditional soccer powerhouses like Portugal, France, Italy and England have fallen by the wayside.
“We are following the instructions of coach Tabarez and we are confident we can reach the semi-finals and give joy to our people,” star striker Diego Forlan said on the eve of departure from their Kimberley base camp.
A small group of Kimberley residents waved farewell to the Uruguayans from across the road as the bus left the hotel on Wednesday evening for the airport, the players clutching flasks of traditional South American matte tea.
The mining city and the squad have clearly bonded.
Charmaine Visser, manager of the Victorian Guest House, was wearing a sky-blue Uruguay scarf given to her by Tabarez when they met.
Hair salon owner Philinda Golden said that she had trimmed Forlan’s blond locks during his stay.
“The country is supporting Ghana, because they are African, but in this city, everyone is for Uruguay,” Philinda said.
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