JOHANNESBURG, July 5 – Some may consider him mad, but wild-haired Uruguay striker Sebastian Abreu believes he is touched by magic.The 33-year-old nomad, a veteran of 17 clubs in seven different countries, scored the decisive penalty in Uruguay’s Wolrd Cup quarter-final victory against Ghana and now may be heading for a starting role in Tuesday’s semi-final against Holland.
With Ajax forward Luis Suarez suspended for the clash in Cape Town following his widely-condemned, goal-line handball in the last minute of extra-time against the Africans, Abreu could be in line for a place in coach Oscar Tabarez’s team.
And if he is, the man known as "Loco", will be thinking deeply about how he can help engineer his team’s progress into the final at Soccer City on Sunday.
His cerebral approach to the game was illustrated in the quarter-final win over Ghana when he scored the crucial penalty in the shoot-out.
Knowing that if he scored he would send Uruguay to the semi-finals for the first time since 1970, Abreu jogged up to the ball and dinked it straight down the middle as Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson dived to his right, and out of the ball’s path.
"I had no idea he would do that," admitted Kingson afterwards.
Abreu insists he knew exactly what the Ghana goalkeeper would do.
"I saw that he was diving before the shooter got to the ball," said Abreu. "Knowing that this penalty was worth qualification for the semi-finals, I was sure that he wouldn’t stand still."
It was the kind of psychological analysis that his team-mates have come to expect from the Botafogo forward, although they usually use a single three-letter word to describe him – mad.
"We’re used to his crazy things, it’s not the first time he’s done that," said Uruguay captain Diego Lugano.
"It’s a quality but he’s as mad as he is intelligent. He studies opponents and goalkeepers. He’s brave and smart."
For Abreu it’s a matter of keeping your head while others around you are losing theirs.
"The mind plays a huge role. Being positive plays a lot in these situations," he said.
"It’s always helped me to expect a mistake, even from one of my team-mates. Thinking that someone could fall or continuing a run when someone shoots from distance just in case the goalkeeper spills the ball."
His approach has not always gone down well.
He has played for 17 teams in seven countries but arrived at the World Cup with the best career scoring record.
His 305 senior goals, including 26 for his country, put him three ahead of France’s Thierry Henry as the most prolific of the 736 players who came to South Africa.
And those goals have come in leagues all over the world from Spain to Israel and Greece in Europe to Mexico, Argentina and his homeland in the Americas.
Right now he plays for Botafogo in Brazil where he has quickly become a cult hero.
But although he has been labelled as "Loco", Abreu feels that’s an injustice.
Four years ago at the World Cup in 2006, another player hit a penalty in just the same way as Abreu did on Friday. It was in the final and the player was Zinedine Zidane, hailed a genius both before and since that goal.
"What adjective did you use to describe Zidane’s penalty?" Abreu asked journalists. "Crazy? No, magic. So why not Abreu?"