JOHANNESBURG: Uruguay may not be the most eyecatching in terms of their attacking football at the World Cup but if one player symbolises their team spirit and fighting qualities it is defensive midfielder Diego Perez.
The 30-year-old Monaco hardman illustrated this perfectly when he shed blood for the two-time world champions in their final group match against Mexico – a 1-0 win which saw them top the table.
An aerial challenge saw him temporarily leave the fray with his face and shirt bloodied only for him to return minutes later with his head bandaged and then at half-time had three stitches inserted in his right eyebrow.
Even more extraordinary is his absolute determination to challenge the tallest of players for headers given that he stands at a relatively small 5ft 10inches – leading him to proudly sport a blackeye following the Mexican clash.
He earned the sobriquet ‘Mr Courageous’ from Uruguayan daily El Pais, whose admiration for him knows no bounds as he was given a remarkable 9/10 for his performance in the Last 16 match with South Korea last Saturday which saw the South Americans win 2-1 and reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1970.
Perez, who despite pushing his tackles to the limit has yet to be booked, earned the corner that led to Luis Suarez’ stunning winner but admitted that even his energy levels had been taxed to the limit in the pouring rain in Port Elizabeth.
"In the last 15 minutes, we dug into previously undiscovered reserves of energy so that we could create some chances," said Perez, who has not always been first choice at Monaco since joining from Penarol in 2004.
Perez – capped 54 times but in his first World Cup finals – admitted that the Uruguayans would have to improve enormously against Africa’s sole remaining representative Ghana in Friday’s quarter-final at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
"We really suffered (against the Koreans), we really had a lot of problems and it is imperative that we improve a lot if we are to qualify for the semi-finals," said Perez.
"Chief among our priorities is keeping possession of the ball and not giving it away cheaply."
Uruguay have conceded only one goal in their four matches so far and will be looking to Perez to take care of that department once again while Suarez and Diego Forlan, with five goals between them, look after the glamour end of the sport….scoring goals.