Diego Forlán: The unplayable Uruguayan and his mastery of the Jabulani 

diego forlan

The infamous sky blue jersey of La Celeste is decorated by the captain’s armband. Number 10 draped across his shirt and long dirty blonde hair pushed by a band. Jet black Adidas F50’s, outlined with a luminous yellow finish. This was Diego Forlán – the most threatening and dominant force of the 2010 World Cup. Forlán finished as the joint top scorer with five goals, including the goal of the tournament, and won the Golden Ball as the best player. The secret of Forlán’s devastating success in South Africa? His treacherous and punishing relationship with the Jabulani. 

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‘The ball’s been doing anything but stay in my gloves’

Alongside the African delight, the deafening soundtrack of the vuvuzela, the Jabulani was the most intriguing narrative of the 2010 showdown. The ball was manufactured by Adidas. It consisted of eight spherically moulded, thermally bonded, three-dimensional panels and its surface was textured with grooves. These characteristics meant the ball was specifically designed to enhance its aerodynamics so it would travel in a swifter and more natural motion. To accompany this change, Adidas developed the mantra of “Grip ‘n’ Groove”. A joyous narrative was created around the Jabulani, which means “celebrate” in Zulu, to bring unadulterated happiness to Africa’s first hosting of an international tournament.

The Jabulani was created to initiate a technological revolution, but it quickly became a topic of intense controversy. By turning their attention to aerodynamics, Adidas produced a ball that had refused to abide by conventional laws. Goalkeepers and forwards were united in their annoyance and lambasted the Jabulani for its tendency to crazily drift, swerve, curve and dip. 

Brazilian striker Luís Fabiano labelled the ball as ‘supernatural’ and an ‘opponent’ as it refused to be tamed during training. 

“The trajectory she makes is strange, she comes out of you, it seems she doesn’t like someone kicking.”

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon fumed over the production of the Jabulani and argued that it shouldn’t be part of the World Cup.

“It is shameful letting such an important competition, where a lot of champions take part, play with a ball like this.” 

Joe Hart echoed Buffon’s frustrations and comically said: 

 “The balls been doing anything but staying in my gloves.”

But, within a bitter crowd of enemies, the ball had developed an ally in Uruguay’s classy playmaker. Forlán made the Jabulani his accomplice. He remarked on his endless practice that allowed for his manipulation of the ball. 

“I had a lot of practice and training. I got lucky and the Jabulani behaved very well back then. And we got along great.”

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Forlán’s 2010 masterclass

Forlán entered the 2010 stage in electric form. The forward had netted 50 goals in his last 66 La Liga appearances and also won the UEFA Europa League that year. Forlán scored twice in the final against Fulham and was named as man of the match. He was the focal point of Los Colchoneros’ third ever European trophy and one of the most in-form players on the planet, who had been quietly plotting one of the most formidable individual World Cup campaigns. 

After a stalemate in their opener against France, Forlán’s wondrous tournament was ignited in the second group game versus the hosts South Africa. From 35 yards out, Forlán hit a mesmeric and dipping strike that kissed the underside of the crossbar, which left goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune rooted to the spot. Khune stared into the abyss, confused and dazzled by Forlán’s stupid goal. The playmaker then emphatically netted an unsaveable penalty into the top left corner. Uruguay were unbeaten in the first three games, failed to concede a goal and advanced to the knockouts as the overwhelming group winners. 

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By the time of the quarter final against Ghana, Forlán had perfected his hypnotic strikes of the Jabulani. When La Celeste found themselves one goal down to the Black Stars and were awarded a free-kick in the 55th minute, their captain and his expert knowledge of the Jabulani was the saving grace. Forlán’s mesmerising and swerving effort flew past the helpless Richard Kingson to kickstart the South American revival. The game then went to penalties. Forlán netted the first of the shootout, before Sebastián Abreu’s outrageous panenka style spot kick crushed Ghanaian hearts. Abreu was unsurprised by Forlán’s match-saving antics and revealed his different relationship with the Jabulani.

“Three months before the 2010 World Cup, Forlan asked Adidas to send him a Jabulani ball. At Atletico Madrid he stayed after training, practising moves with the ball in motion and free kicks.”

In the next round of the knockouts against the Netherlands, Forlán added another superb piece of art to his absurd exhibition of pings. An incredible strike on his weaker left foot epitomised the unpredictable nature of the Jabulani. Forlán cut inside and released a rasping effort that was seemingly heading straight at Maarten Stekelenburg. At the last moment, the ball began to curve, which completely dumbfounded the Dutch keeper, who got a hand to it, but failed to prevent Forlán’s fourth goal of the tournament. Uruguay crashed out as the Oranje triumphed 3-2, but it was another ruthless display from the number 10. 

Although La Celeste had painfully departed the competition, there was still time for a final glorious flourish from Forlán. His final goal of his South African escapade during Uruguay’s third place play off match against Germany was perhaps his most iconic. Forlán was lurking dangerously on the outside of the area, sniffing for another opportunity. He then dispatched a cross with a thunderous downward volley. The penultimate game of the World Cup had produced FIFA’s goal of the tournament. Uruguay finished in the commendable fourth position and Forlán had decorated proceedings with consistent class. His inevitability secured the South Americans their highest World Cup finish for 40 years and it was the first time that an Uruguayan had won the Golden Ball since its introduction in 1982. 

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The undisputed player of the tournament 

Forlán coasted through South Africa with a catalogue of upper echelon finishing. Intelligence, leadership, technique, and flair merged with incredible shot power and an unbeatable mastery of the Jabulani. He conquered its unpredictability to forge the most inescapable storyline of that World Cup – a long-range Forlán piledriver. 

Forlán’s goals were a lethal blend of power and precision. He left goalkeepers paralyzed and bewildered. The Manchester United reject was simply unplayable and transformed himself into one of the most menacing forces in world football.

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