Latin America & Caribbean

Uruguay left with bittersweet taste after football defeat

Fans in Montevideo react after the Uruguay-Holland match
Image caption Many Uruguayans are proud of their national team despite the defeat

Uruguayans are feeling disappointed but satisfied after their team lost a World Cup semi-final against the Netherlands.

Before the tournament started, they would have never dreamed of getting so close to the golden trophy.

Although their high hopes are now gone, people are just happy that their team has regained some of its past footballing glory.

Most Uruguayans value the fact that the team reached the semi-finals and many see Tuesday's defeat as a victory, anyway.

"I'm proud to see that Uruguay, a small country that is not one of today's football powers, was able to face Holland with dignity. Our players did their best and fought until the last minute for a place in the final," one fan said, with a hint of sadness.

'Like old times'

For 38-year-old Alfredo Arnaud, it was the first time that he felt "this enthusiasm about a World Cup".

Veronica Silvera, another football fan, said: "Even though we lost, I feel very proud of my national team."

For those under 40, to whom Uruguay's past World Cup glory is a story heard so often but never experienced at first hand, pride and enthusiasm are totally new feelings.

As Gabriela Santos, another young fan, puts it, in football Uruguayans are used to suffering, or they were up until now.

"We were the last team to qualify for the World Cup and now we are among the four best teams. We can not ask for more. We are all happy to be where we are," she says.

Uruguay have won the World Cup twice: at home against Argentina in the inaugural tournament in 1930, and then in the heroic deed known as Maracanazo when - against all odds - the national team managed to beat Brazil on their own turf at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro in 1950.

In 1970, Uruguay reached the semi-finals in Mexico but good football times pretty much ended then.

Heroes' homecoming

This is why this year celebrations were so massive after each win, especially after the dramatic quarter-final against Ghana.

Image caption Striker Diego Forlan (right) was one of the stars of the tournament

Even after losing to Holland, many were chanting "Uruguay, Uruguay," beeping car horns and waving flags in the centre of Montevideo, where thousands watched the match on large screens.

The euphoria in Uruguay at the team's success will guarantee the footballers a homecoming never seen before.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to meet the players at the airport and follow them in a long motorcade to the parliament.

There they will be greeted by President Jose Mujica, on a long outdoor staircase - so thousands of people can gather and cheer.

Winning Saturday's third-place match is not something Uruguayans are too worried about.

Hopes are now set on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with many already dreaming of bringing the trophy home.