CAPE TOWN, July 6, 2010 (AFP) - Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez praised his players on Tuesday, saying their narrow World Cup semi-final defeat to the Netherlands proved they could can mix it with football`s powerhouses.
The tiny South American nation, sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, held their own against the Dutch and almost pulled off a major shock with a last minute goal getting the score back to 3-2.
But they were unable to snatch an equaliser and now face a third-placed play-off on Saturday against either Germany or Spain while the Dutch head for Sunday`s final.
It was Uruguay`s first semi-final in 40 years and Tabarez said it was huge achievement regardless of losing.
"When it comes to looking back, we can say that we were among the four semi-finalists and the other three are powerhouses of Europe," he said.
"Today we are looking at the team that is in the final and I believe we put this team in difficulty.
"I know football in Uruguay and where it stands on a worldwide level and so I can say I am proud and happy with the performance of my team.
"They managed to play at an equal level with Holland but didn`t manage to score the winning goal in the final moments. I couldn`t ask for more from these players and nor could Uruguay."
Holland got the best possible start with a 18th minute strike form veteran captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst handing them the lead in a first-half dominated by the Dutch.
But against the run of play Diego Forlan put his team back in the match with a long-range strike four minutes before half-time - his fourth goal of the tournament.
It was the Netherland`s second goal from Wesley Sneijder on 70 minutes that did the damage, and Tabarez complained that it was clearly offside.
"When they scored the first goal, it was one thing and it was clear that the Dutch players were very gifted technically and could create a goal from any situation," he said.
"It was a beautiful goal but unexpected for us.
"Their second goal was decisive but it was offside and the match could have been different. They were then at ease and they made us feel their piece of mind.
"But we never gave up and went on looking for more and Maxi Pereira`s goal gave us hope that we could go to the final."
Asked if he was disappointed, Tabarez replied: "If you could chose a way of losing it would look very much like this."
BDST: 0547hrs, July 7, 2010