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RECIFE, Brazil (AFP) – Huge popular protests across Brazil may have moved the Confederations Cup focus away from the pitch, but Tahiti will bow out Sunday against Uruguay to end what was a romantic adventure -- even if they slid to a record 10-0 loss to Spain along the way.
Despite that hiding, Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta says it has been worth making the trip.
"We have been pleasantly surprised with our experiences in Brazil as, despite our losses, the people have been right behind us. We have won their hearts," said Etaeta, whose team suffered a record loss in FIFA tournament history against the rampant Spanish world champions.
Their first outing had brought a 6-1 loss to Nigeria and now the Uruguayans, having beaten the African side, will look for an easy win as they attempt to deny Nigeria second spot in Group B and with it a place in the semi-finals.
One of the lasting images of an event marred by the protests across Brazil was of goalkeeper Mikael Roche kissing the Maracana stadium turf after the Spain game where 71,000 fans gave Tahiti a generous and moving ovation.
"I would like to thank them, they were great. It really touched us. They don't know us yet they applaud us like that," said Etaeta.
The Uruguayans, struggling to impress in the Latin American zonal qualifying tournament for next year's World Cup finals which Brazil will also host, hope that their win over Nigeria will provide a springboard as they look to recapture the form they showed in winning the Copa America in 2011.
"We are on track for a place in the last four," said coach Oscar Tabarez, who believes veteran striker Diego Forlan can pull more goals out of the hat after his winner against Nigeria.
The Celeste are not short of other firepower options in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani but Forlan is the man of the moment. A decade on from a difficult spell with Manchester United and now with Internacional in Brazil the 34-year-old capped his 100th international appearance with a fine goal in Salvador.
That moved him back above Suarez in the overall goalscoring stakes in the Uruguayan shirt as he emulated fellow 34-year-old elder statesman Andrea Pirlo, the Italian veteran who also celebrated a century of appearances with a goal last week in the win over Italy.
"Diego Forlan is a man with a brilliant past and, above anything, it has to do with his huge professionalism," said Tabarez, lauding a player who he hopes can lift them up from their current fifth place in World Cup qualifying which would only earn them a playoff.
Assuming Uruguay squash the Tahitians at Recife's Arena Pernambuco, they will go through to the last four unless Nigeria can get past Spain, also on Sunday, in which case goal difference would come into play.