The prospect of a Uruguay versus Netherlands semi-final was scarcely mentioned in the long build-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, yet these are the teams who meet in the last four on Tuesday evening in Cape Town. Both are there on merit too, as they have performed consistently well from the first day, defended resolutely, and taken their chances efficiently at the other end. The winners go forward to the Final, while the consolation prize for the losers is the third-place play-off.
After the drama and tension of their penalty shoot-out victory over Ghana in the quarter-finals, Uruguay are in the last four at the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 40 years. La Celeste fell 3-1 to eventual winners Brazil at Mexico 1970, and went on to finish fourth. The Netherlands, who staged a remarkable second-half comeback to defeat five-time winners Brazil in the last eight, previously fought through to the semis in 1974, 1978 and 1998.
The teams’ solitary previous meeting at the FIFA World Cup came in the 1974 tournament. Johnny Rep fired a brace as the celebrated Dutch ensemble spearheaded by the great Johan Cruyff won the group stage encounter 2-0. The Uruguay squad that day included defender Pablo Forlan, father of current La Celeste marksman Diego Forlan.
Ahead of Tuesday’s clash, Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez and Netherlands supremo Bert van Marwijk are both mulling over enforced changes to their winning teams. For the South Americans, Jorge Fucile and Luis Suarez are suspended, and captain Diego Lugano is rated very doubtful with bruising and a stretched knee ligament. Young Nicolas Lodeiro will play no further part in South Africa after breaking a foot. For the Dutch, Van Marwijk is without suspended pair Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong.
Our two players to watch may not cross paths that often on the field of play, but the spotlight still falls on the respective teams’ leading scorers. Forlan shares top spot in the Celeste goalscoring list with Suarez, but the latter can only watch from the stands after his red card against Ghana. The task of piercing the Dutch defence thus falls fairly and squarely to Forlan, now up to 27 goals for his country, and whose three strikes at the current tournament have all come against African sides.
His Netherlands counterpart Sneijder also has four goals, and rates as an equally creative orchestrator of the Oranje’s versatile forward line. The world already knew all about Sneijder’s flawless technique and visionary passing, but his lethal finishing has taken many people by surprise.
100 – No-one can fail to be impressed by the Netherlands’ current run of form. Since the start of 2010, Van Marwijk’s men boast a 100 per cent record, with nine wins in nine matches, extending their unbeaten run to 24 games. Uruguay are themselves unbeaten in nine, winning five and drawing two of their seven games in 2010, giving them a win ratio of 77.7 per cent.
What they said
"It will be a very dangerous match. The euphoria at home is massive at the moment and maybe it's good that we're so far away and can't witness it. We really need to concentrate on Uruguay and that won’t be easy. They didn't reach the semi final for nothing, so we have to really focus again and not think that we're already there," Bert Van Marwijk, Netherlands coach.
"Holland are tough opponents. They’ve not lost for almost two years. This generation is a little different to the traditional Holland - they are a very balanced side. At the back they give nothing away, they link well in midfield, and up front, they have hard-running, technically capable players like Van Bommel, Sneijder and Robben. They’re always on the front foot, looking to attack. It’ll be very difficult - but not impossible," Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay coach.
Voice of the fans
"Bert van Marwijk’s analysis is spot on. Euro 2008 showed us the biggest danger for Oranje, which is thinking the World Cup is already won. In fact, they have to win twice more before getting their hands on the cup. Holland need to concentrate totally on their next two games, and then maybe they’ll earn their first star," FIFA.com-User Saitou (Germany)