Tabarez: Forlan and Suarez ideal blend

CAPE TOWN - Diego Forlan has graduated into a mature squad leader and his place as the team's young gun has been neatly filled by strike partner Luis Suarez, Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez said on Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference at Cape Town's Green Point stadium, where his team will face France on Friday in the second Group A match following South Africa's opener against Mexico, Tabarez said he was raring to go.

His players went through a light training session on a lush carpet of a surface with Forlan fully recovered from a thigh knock he picked up earlier in the week.

Eight years ago it was Forlan, his long blond locks held in place by an alice band, who was the South American side's golden hope but he and the team struggled to make any impact and went home after two first-round draws and a defeat.

Now 31, he returns to the tournament with his reputation established as one of the game's great finishers and fresh from leading Atletico Madrid to their Europa League triumph.

"Diego is a great footballer, he's terrific and he's here in tip top shape," Tabarez said. "He's really matured in his football and his personality. He has acquired a real presence in the squad and has real leadership now.

"He's absolutely aware of the scale of the World Cup and has great expectations but is also very cool and calm."

Now filling the role of young thruster is Suarez, the 23-year-old who has been on fire for Ajax Amsterdam.

"Suarez was a notable talent as a young player in Uruguay but he used to be criticised for losing possession and trying too many things," Tabarez said.

"When he went to (Dutch side) Groningen he began to shine and now after what he has done at Ajax he has become highly respected at home.

"I have no doubts about Luis's potential and am sure he will be able to transfer that potential to this World Cup."

TRANSPORT PROBLEM

In 2002 Uruguay were accompanied in their first-round exit by then-defending champions France, with whom they drew 0-0, but Tabarez says he expects a much stronger French team this time.

He said nothing should be read into their recent 1-0 friendly defeat by China in a game which he said the French had dominated.

"I watched that match and it does not change my views about what a tough opponent they will be," he said.

"France are well organised, powerful and great on the attack. In some recent games they've had difficulties with teams who have very good defenders but they have never thrown in the towel and always pressed forward.

"We've thought a lot about how to keep them under control but I think we can make things difficult for them too."

Things were made a bit difficult for Tabarez and his squad when an aircraft hitch delayed their departure from Montevideo by nine hours last week and another problem kept them at Kimberly, where they are based, for an extra three on Thursday.

"We did have a glitch which altered our plans a bit but that's water under the bridge now," said Tabarez, who also led Uruguay in the 1990 tournament when they lost to hosts Italy in the second round.

"We are here now, we've trained on the pitch and are raring to go.

"Now the first game is so close there are a few butterflies but there is just some fine-tuning to do and I hope we can be a surprise in this World Cup."

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