When Luis Suarez swatted away Asamoah Gyan's goal-bound effort with his hand in the dying stages of extra-time, Christian Stuani admits that he celebrated. For many, it has since been used as a stick to beat the Liverpool striker with, but it is remembered more fondly by Espanyol's Uruguayan international and his fellow countrymen.
Uruguay and Ghana were locked at 1-1 and heading to penalties when the incident occurred at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Suarez was rightfully awarded a red card and Gyan was handed a spot kick to secure his country's place in the last four of football's most prestigious competition—a location no nation from the African continent has ever had the fortune of visiting.
The former Sunderland striker couldn't convert, though, and watched his strike ricochet off of the crossbar. More penalty pain followed for the Ghanaians as Uruguay advanced to the semifinals via a shootout—they would be beaten in the last four by Holland.
"When Luis handled on the line against Ghana, I must admit that I did celebrate," Stuani confessed in an interview with Bleacher Report, a smile on his face. "I thought he was a hero, but that's only natural when someone does something to keep your country in the World Cup."
Stuani had just completed a successful season on loan with Albacete in the second tier of Spanish football, scoring 22 times in 39 appearances, and thoughts of an international call-up were a long way from reality. Since a permanent move to Espanyol in 2012 though, his dream of playing for La Celeste has become a reality.
Uruguay has a population of just over three million, but their deep pool of talent made it tricky for Stuani to break into the squad. Two years ago he hadn't even received an international cap, yet over the next month, and after scoring in a playoff match with Jordan, the 27-year-old will be lining up alongside Suarez and the Uruguayan national team rather than watching them on television.
"Being named in the squad for Brazil is a huge achievement for me," he explained after confessing he watched the draw desperately hoping to be involved. "Playing for my country is something I dreamed of doing when I was young. Our squad is so strong and full of players that play at a high level, so it was difficult to get to this point."
As he discusses the various players who will feature for Uruguay at Espanyol's Barcelona training ground, there is child-like exuberance as he ticks off the men who will pose the biggest threat to England when they meet the South Americans on June 19 in São Paulo.
"We have so much experience," the forward continued. "We're lucky to have players like Luis, Edinson [Cavani] and the Diegos [Forlan and Godin]. These are players who have been at the very top of the game and it can only help to have them on the pitch with us because it gives the team so much more strength.
"Take Luis for example, he is one of the top five players in the world at the moment. People may talk about him playing as if he is at war on the pitch, but off it, he is a really good guy and a reference for the whole dressing room. Whenever we finish training with la seleccion he is always one of the players that stays out doing extra work. For those reasons I would imagine [that a comparison with Chelsea target Diego Costa is fair], but I don’t know Costa so well."
Italy and Costa Rica complete what has been touted as one of the tougher groups to get out of. But while some may favour the European heavyweights, England and Italy, to progress, Stuani is keen to point out that Uruguay are no strangers to upsetting the applecart.
Sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, neither of which Stuani would suggest are a bigger rival, Uruguay are the current Copa America holders and the most successful team in the competition's history with 15 titles, followed by Argentina with 14. They've also won the World Cup twice and there is an expectation within the country that the group is the least of their worries—they've got their eyes on replicating 1950 when they famously won the World Cup at the Estadio Maracana in Brazil.
"This is a country with a great history with the sport, and the people of Uruguay respect that. So of course we will believe that we can go really far in the competition if we play to our potential," Stuani asserted. "I hope to play in the final, but it is obvious that it is going to be difficult to make our mark. We are eager to continue in the competition for as long as possible."
To progress they'll have to be organised and knowledgeable, and Stuani insists, with the help of the squad's England-based players, that they will know exactly what to expect from Roy Hodgson's men.
"For me, England are still one of the best footballing sides at an international level," he said after discussing every World Cup since USA 1994. "We have had the opportunity to talk with some of the guys who play in England, and to be honest, we know the English players really well now.
"There are players of real quality and England have always had good players that play in the world’s best leagues. They've got players who are accustomed to playing at the very top level. That will certainly count. Players like [Wayne] Rooney and [Steven] Gerrard are so experienced and important to England, but I also think there are good players defensively in the team as well."
So when it comes down to it, all research thoroughly conducted, who does Stuani think will get out of Group D?
"Us, for sure! After that I wouldn’t like to predict who will qualify with us—what will be, will be."
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