What does the World Cup mean to you? I just want to play in a tournament where I do myself and my country justice. I played in 2002, but I was mainly on the bench and it wasn’t the best time for me. I scored a beautiful goal against Senegal in a strange game because we were 0-3 down. I came off the bench and we ended up drawing 3-3.
We lost out to Australia in the final qualifying game for the last World Cup in Germany, but now we have reached the finals again with a good side. We were the last team to reach South Africa, but we are there now. On a personal level, I have experience and I’m feeling good and confident.
You scored a hat-trick against Peru in a key qualifying game… We were going through a bad patch. We had just drawn with Venezuela at home and were playing away in Peru, which was very cold. I was very happy with the hat-trick because they were all good goals, but happier that we won.
What are your earliest World Cup memories? Mexico ’86 and Italy in 1990. Uruguay played in both, so I have more vivid memories of those than 1994 and 1998 when Uruguay didn’t play. In ’86, we qualified from the group and then met our rivals Argentina, who won the competition.
We only lost 1-0, so that showed how good we were. I liked Argentina in that competition because I liked Maradona. I followed him in the 1990 competition, which Uruguay also qualified for.
We had a good team in 1990 - with players like Enzo Francescoli - but the problem was we met the host nation, Italy, who played very well and won 2-0. Oscar Tabarez, the coach from 1990, returned as our coach in 2006, and he’s very well respected.
How proud are Uruguayans of their World Cup history? We’re very proud of our history. We have won the World Cup twice in 1930 and 1950 – that’s more than England and France and Spain, who have never won it.
We won the first World Cup and are also the smallest country to have won the World Cup. Can you imagine Wales or Scotland winning the World Cup?
Are you confident? I want to win the World Cup. But I realise that people might shake their heads when I say what. I know there are stronger teams but I also know that Uruguay is good enough to win against any team if we play well. If we don’t play well, we can lose against any team.
Our success will start with our defence. If we don’t concede then we are much more comfortable attacking.
But Uruguay are in a tough group… We know that France have a very experienced squad. That’s our first game, the second match in the whole competition so there will be a certain pressure on us.
France have got several players, young and old, who are very capable in terms of the way they play and the goals they get. I haven’t been able to study France in detail, but I know they are also strong defensively. My duty is to score goals against France...and against South Africa and Mexico.
South Africa are the home team, so we’ll be playing the crowd too. I’ve never been to South Africa before, but all of us have played in challenging places, on bad pitches or at high altitude. We’ve always adjusted, but we’re in a very tough group because Mexico, like France, are another strong team.
Your father, Pablo, played in the 1966 World Cup finals against France. Have you spoken to him about that game? The truth is that my father does not talk much about the World Cups. I remember him telling me about the 1966 World Cup in England and I always remembered that when Manchester United and Middlesbrough both tried to sign me. He didn’t speak about the France game, but the whole tournament. He was such a young man when he played in England. He also had a chance to play in the 1974 World Cup finals in Germany.
Who is your nation’s danger man? It’s supposed to be me! But if you write about someone else then maybe I will be left unmarked! Seriously, we have some very good players like the captain Diego Lugano, a central defender for Fenerbahce.
A lot of the squad are at big clubs in Europe. The goalkeeper Fernando Muslera is only 23, but he’s very confident and playing for Lazio. Luis Suarez plays alongside me up front. He’s at Ajax and we have a good relationship.
Which England players do you admire? Wayne Rooney has been outstanding for Manchester United this season. He’s only a young player, but he’s already very experienced at the top level. Gerrard is another player I admire.
England has the advantage of a team who have played together for a very long time, and are one of the favourites along with Spain, Brazil and Argentina. Then you have Germany, who always reach the latter stages. Their football is not always very attractive, but it’s successful.
If Uruguay won the World Cup, what would you do when you go back to Montevideo? (Laughs) It would be the biggest party the city has ever seen. It would last for one week. At the end, I would treat all of my friends and family to a trip wherever they wanted to go in the world…which would probably be Punta del Este in Uruguay, where the party would continue. The most difficult part of being a South American footballer is that we are far away from our families in Europe and that is hard. Winning the World Cup would give me an excuse to spend more time with them.
Interview: June 2010.