The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ has reached the semi-final stage, with sole South American survivors Uruguay standing alone against the cream of Europe’s representatives. La Celeste are in action on Tuesday evening against an increasingly confident Netherlands side, while Germany take on Spain on Wednesday in a repeat of the UEFA EURO 2008 final.
No member of that illustrious quartet has looked more impressive than the Germans, who put four past England in the Round of 16 and then dished out similar treatment to Argentina in the quarter-finals. Their upcoming opponents did not look quite as impressive in disposing of Portugal and Paraguay in the same rounds, the European champions edging through on both occasions thanks to opportunistic strikes by David Villa.
Uruguay have had to battle hard to take their place in the last four, downing Korea Republic 2-1 in the last 16 before ending African hopes with a nerve-wracking shootout win over Ghana. Oscar Tabarez’s side will need to summon up their famed resolve against the Dutch, who are on a high after seeing off Brazil 2-1.
Uruguay-Netherlands, 6 July, Cape Town, 20.30
Germany-Spain, 7 July, Durban, 20.30
The big game
Much has changed in the two years since a Fernando Torres goal put Michael Ballack’s Germany to the sword in the final of EURO 2008. With the injured Ballack watching from the stands and Torres still struggling to recapture his goalscoring touch, it is the youthful Germans and not the Spanish who have been catching the eye with their high-tempo football.
Coach Joachim Low has unleashed a new generation of talented tyros including Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, two of the spearheads of a squad with an average age of only 24.9. Low can also count on a rejuvenated Miroslav Klose. Little used last season by Bayern Munich, the veteran goalgetter is closing in fast on Ronaldo’s all-time FIFA World Cup™ scoring record.
Not to be outdone, Vicente del Bosque can call on a lethal finisher of his own in Barcelona new boy Villa, the leading marksman at South Africa 2010 with five goals in all. And while the Spaniards have yet to move the ball around with their customary élan, they still carry a threat too potent for most teams and boast an exceptional supporting cast that includes the livewire Pedro, whose services could be called upon if extra-time beckons.
Whether this game is decided in 90 minutes or not, there should be plenty of goals and entertainment in store.
Diego Forlan v The Big Four
Deprived of strike sidekick Luis Suarez, who is suspended, the Atletico Madrid forward knows that Uruguay’s destiny in the competition lies squarely on his shoulders. Forlan has already hit three vital goals in South Africa and will not be lacking in motivation when he sets out to add to that haul on Tuesday. Unlike his opposite number Tabarez, Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has an embarrassment of riches up front. While Dutch fans are hoping to see the Big Four of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie ride together once more, they also have the security of knowing that trusty understudies Ryan Babel, Eljero Elia, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart are all waiting in the wings.
What they said
"It will be like a final. We know them. We are a very offensive team and they are maybe the most exciting team at this World Cup," Fernando Torres, Spain striker.
Stars on the wane: Several of the game’s most established talents have failed to shine at South Africa 2010. Four years on from appearing in the Final at Germany 2006, Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon managed only 45 minutes on the pitch due to injury, while France’s Thierry Henry made only sporadic appearances from the bench. Leading scorers in their respective league championships, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney, both went home goalless after frustrating campaigns, while the Real Madrid duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka also had tournaments to forget. On the flipside, the quartet of Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, Van Persie and Robben have all excelled in the Netherlands’ excellent run, while the German duo of Muller and Klose have grabbed eight goals between them and Uruguayan front-runners Forlan and Suarez have snatched three apiece to fire La Celeste’s challenge.
Continental shift: Europe responded well to the gauntlet thrown down by South America in the quarter-finals, with the old continent’s three representatives winning their ties against the cream of CONMEBOL, scoring seven goals and conceding just the one in doing so. Even so, with Uruguay taking the other semi slot, Europe missed out on a repeat of its full house at Germany 2006, when the host nation, Italy, France and Portugal made up the last four.
Casillas the penalty king: In clutching on to Oscar Cardozo’s tame spot-kick on Saturday evening, the Spain No1 became the third goalkeeper in FIFA World Cup history to save two penalties outside of a shoot-out at the finals. The Real Madrid man also denied Republic of Ireland’s Ian Harte in the Round of 16 at Korea/Japan 2002, and joins Poland’s Jan Tomaszewski and USA’s Brad Friedel in what is a highly select group. Casillas’s team-mate Villa is gunning for a record of his own. The striker has now scored in four consecutive finals matches and can equal the record set by Just Fontaine at Sweden 1958 and Jairzinho at Mexico 1970 if he finds the back of the net again in Spain’s next two games.