Europe gatecrashes World Cup semi-finals

By Dan Levy

Posted on Tuesday, 6 July 2010 13:42

A tournament all about Africa, which was dominated by South American teams until now, could well end up with an all-European final.

All three of the European teams that reached the World Cup 2010 quarterfinals have made it through to the semis. South American sides accounted for four of the last eight, but only Uruguay avoided elimination, thanks to Luis Suarez’s hand and Asamoah Gyan’s dramatic, late penalty miss for Ghana.

Uruguay v Netherlands

Uruguay will not be favourites against the Netherlands on Tuesday night in Cape Town, but they have an impressive international C.V. Despite a population of just 3.5 million, Uruguay boasts more World Cups than England and France – winning the inaugural edition on home soil in 1930 and repeating the trick in 1950 in Brazil – and also reached the semi-finals in 1954 and 1970. Diego Forlan is the danger man, especially with Suarez suspended, but La Celeste will be looking to its meagre defence to keep their tally of goals conceded in South Africa at just two.

The Dutch have failed to sparkle this summer, yet could be on course for their first ever World Cup triumph. They thrilled in the 1970s with their famed ‘Total Football’, changing the sport forever. But they fell short in two consecutive finals – 1974 and 1978. This team could finally break the Netherlands’ World Cup duck by playing less thrilling but more efficient football.

There is an absence of stars in the Oranje defence but they have truly excellent forwards and a solid midfield. Arjen Robben was the player of the year in Germany as his Bayern Munich side won the domestic league and cup double and reached the Champions League final. They lost that game to Inter Milan, who relied on Robben’s compatriot Wesley Sneijder for a creative link between midfield and attack. Sneijder was instrumental in Inter’s historic treble and has already found the back of the net four times at this World Cup.

Nigel De Jong is missing for the Dutch meaning they will choose between a more defensively minded partner for Mark Van Bommel – Stijn Schaars or Demy de Zeeuw – or the attacking prowess of Rafael van der Vaart. Expect coach Bert van Marwijk to choose pragmatism and industry; it’s got them this far, after all.

Spain v Germany

Spain v Germany is a repeat of the 2008 European Championships Final, which Spain won thanks to a solitary Fernando Torres goal. The match in Durban on Wednesday night will be Spain’s first ever World Cup semi-final, even though the European Champions came into the tournament as favourites. They have largely disappointed, except for the brilliant David Villa who leads the scoring charts in South Africa with five goals and is just one strike away from equalling Raul’s all-time goal tally of 44 for Spain, even though he’s played 39 fewer internationals than the Real Madrid legend.

Germany are the team in form after hitting four goals for the third time in this tournament when they crushed Argentina 4-0 in the quarter finals. But Spain may be liberated by finally reaching a World Cup semi and they have the talent to beat anyone no matter the form. Cesc Fabregas is fit to play despite injuring a shoulder against Paraguay. Fernando Torres appears patently unfit, and might make way for the Arsenal man in the starting line up.

The German national side represents a new multicultural Mannschaft: 11 of their squad of 23 were born outside Germany or have roots from other countries; six of them are likely to start against the Spanish. The Deutscher Fußball-Bund, Germany’s football federation, took advantage of 1999 changes in legalisation making it easier to obtain German citizenship, to widen the pool of players from which they could select. Chancellor Angela Merkel has already voiced her approval. “It is an example of how role models can be created; role models for our whole country,” she said. “For those who are of German origin just as much as for those who want to integrate.”

This German side is full of verve, dynamism, organisation and quality, though they will miss the combination of industry and composure the suspended Thomas Müller embodies. They will look to Miroslav Klose for goals, the Polish-born star is one away from Ronaldo’s all-time record World Cup haul of 15.

There is a simmering confidence about Coach Joachim Löw’s side that has been there since the start of the tournament. Also significant is the fact that this team is roundly adored back home. Löw is himself is very popular, as are the players, and they do not play with any of the pressure or anxiety that burdens many of the other “big” teams or “big” players; England and France being good examples of this.

Opponents Spain appeared under pressure in the early stages of the tournament; they will look to keep the ball while Germany have been so devastating on the counter attack thus far. It should be a fascinating contest.

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