Uruguay family takes long road to South Africa

KIMBERLEY, South Africa - When Uruguayan Mario Sabah and his two sons turned up in a tiny car outside their national team's hotel in Kimberley this week they kept a pledge made to captain Diego Lugano in Turkey one year ago.

In the meantime they had driven through Iran, Pakistan, Australia, East Timor and Indonesia before loading their Citroen Mehari onto a ship and sailing to the South African port of Durban in time for the World Cup.

Mario, 56, Ismael, 28 and Matias, 25, had set off from their home in Montevideo in February 2007 to drive round the world.

They travelled through the Americas and Europe before reaching Turkey, where they looked up Lugano, who plays for Fenerbahce.

"Lugano said that if Uruguay qualify for the World Cup, we must be there," Matias told Reuters. "We made a promise."

The Sabahs were in Australia when Uruguay beat Costa Rica in a play-off to reach the finals in South Africa.

"We changed all our journey," Matias said.

On Wednesday, they were there to hug Lugano and his team-mates when they boarded the bus to go training in this mining city in the middle of the South African veld (plains).

The Sabah's journey from their small Latin American homeland has covered more than 100,000 km across 41 countries in their 600 cc, 28 horsepower car, with all their worldly goods in a trailer behind.

"We sold all that we had to make this dream possible," said Mario, who used to run a lighting and electrical business. "The journey really started when the money ran out. Before then it was easy."


On the road they have raised funds from ad hoc sponsorship and Uruguayans they have met along the way.

The blue car is emblazoned with stickers ranging from Ecuadorean supermarkets to local Citroen dealers, almost obscuring the slogan "One family, One Car, One World, One Dream."

It is cramped inside, which has led to occasional disagreements along the way.

"We fight, but then after each time we grow up," Matias said.

They had had too many adventures to single out one, but Ismael mentioned the freezing cold of Canada and the searing heat of Pakistan as his abiding memories.

They will attend all Uruguay's games, starting in Cape Town against France on Friday followed by clashes with hosts South Africa in Pretoria and Mexico in Rustenburg.

"La Celeste", as the Uruguayan team are known, have a proud record in the World Cup and were winners in 1930 and 1950 although they have struggled in more recent decades.

Now though, with in-form strikers allied to traditional tenacity, they have set their sights on reaching the second round and restoring some of their former glory.

"We are not crazy fans but we love our country. This team is part of our country and we are here for them," Matias said. "If we can make it this far in this car, then Uruguay can be world champions."

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