Monday 04 April 2022, 08:48

When El Loco lived up to his name

  • Uruguay drawing Ghana at Qatar 2022 revived memories of a thrilling 2010 quarter-final

  • Sebastian Abreu's impudent ‘Panenka’ sent Uruguay through to the last four

  • ​Lugano: “He's as mad as he is intelligent”

It is one of the most memorable penalties in FIFA World Cup™ history.

Sebastian Abreu had the responsibility of returning Uruguay to the semi-finals for the first time in four decades. But with Ghana also on the verge of history, and Africans united in support of the Black Stars, the vast bulk of a noisy, partisan Soccer City crowd was willing El Loco to miss.

But while countless players have faltered under such pressure, and many more still have gone for the obvious, 'safe' option of going hard and low to one corner or the other, Abreu took the road less travelled. With hearts pumping and vuvuzelas blaring all around him, the eccentric Uruguay star won the shoout-out with the cheekiest of chips.

It was an extraordinary effort, one that left him at the risk of looking foolish – and facing the ire of a nation – but which was also, as his team-mates acknowledged, typical of the man.

"We're used to his crazy things - it's not the first time he's done that," said Uruguay’s captain, Diego Lugano. "He's as mad as he is intelligent. He studies opponents and goalkeepers. He's brave and smart."

El Loco himself rejected any suggestion of madness playing a part in his decision, however, and pointed to a famous ‘Panenka’ four years earlier to prove his point. "What adjective did you use to describe Zidane's penalty (in the 2006 Final)? Crazy? No, magic. So why not Abreu?" he asked.

“Besides,” he added in an interview with, “I’d been watching their keeper and I saw that he was diving before the penalty taker struck the ball. Given that a place in the semi-finals was at stake I didn’t think he was likely to stand still. Normally you’ve got so much adrenaline pumping that you aim for one side or the other, but I took it with confidence.”

Indeed he did, and Abreu’s clear-minded appraisal of the situation, and correct assessment of Richard Kingson’s intentions, led to the warmest of post-match compliments from his coach.

“I wouldn’t say that it was a crazy decision,” said Oscar Tabarez. “In my view the way he took it showed his class, his quality. The people who criticise him just wouldn’t be brave enough to do what he did.”