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This Diego is still smiling

sports Updated: Jul 04, 2010 00:23 IST

The man once unkindly dubbed “Diego Forlorn” confirmed his reputation as one of the world’s deadliest strikers on Friday night. Diego Forlan lit up the Soccer City stadium with a rasping free-kick that dipped and swerved in the air to deceive Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson 10 minutes into second half.

His blockbuster strike levelled the score at 1-1 and allowed the South Americans to take the tie into extra-time and then into penalties. Forlan also kept his nerve to successfully slot home the first penalty of the shoot-out and earned the man-of-the-match award.

“We suffered but now we will be among the four best sides in the world,” said the Atletico Madrid star. “As far as my goal was concerned, I hit it normally. I had to score and I didn't think about anything else.”

For the 31-year-old striker it was one of the highlights of a career that appeared to be stalling after two frustrating and fruitless seasons at Manchester United. He arrived in England in 2002 as a highly sought-after 23-year-old who had impressed for

Forlan at the cup

-3 goals scored
-2 fouls committed
-20 shots at goal (9 on target)
-231 passes completed (56% completion rate)
Independiente in Argentina.

But his dream move soon turned sour as he struggled to break into the United first team — whose forward line was marshalled by the prolific Ruud van Nistelrooy — and even took 27 games to notch his first goal. With his Dutch team-mate banging in goals for fun, Forlan’s own troubles in finding the net were magnified.

Although he did notch some vital strikes, such as late goals against Aston Villa and Chelsea as United won the title in 2003 and a brace at Anfield to defeat bitter rivals Liverpool, his return of 17 goals in 95 appearances over two years was not deemed sufficient for a career at Old Trafford. In the summer of 2004 he was offloaded to Spanish side Villarreal for a fraction of the fee United paid for him and it was in Spain that he resurrected his career.

He took no time at all to find his feet in La Liga, scoring 25 goals in his first season to finish as league top scorer before repeating the feat in 2008-09, this time in the colours of Atletico.

His goalscoring exploits in those two seasons earned him the coveted European Golden Shoe (shared with Thierry Henry in 2005) and he finished last season with a Europa League winners’ medal after scoring both goals in Atletico's 2-1 defeat of Fulham in the tournament final.