There are but four games remaining in World Cup 2010, and we shouldn’t even count the third/four place game, which is about as pointless as putting your money on England to win the whole shebang in the first place.
It’s arguably worse to lose the semi-final than the final itself as, from the fans’ perspective, you have a day to remember and if you’re lucky enough to be participating, it might add a zero to your transfer valuation. But enough of such frivolities! This may well be a blog but that doesn’t mean we take these games lightly. Far from it: so let’s look ahead to whether the Dutch can continue to dominate or if Uruguay will usurp them. And will it be ground-breaking Germany or the slightly stuttering Spanish? Alliteration be damned! Here’s your semi-final preview.
Tuesday, July 6: Uruguay vs. Holland — Ode to Orange
Many tears were shed come the end of Uruguay’s get out of jail victory over Ghana last Friday. The only African side to make it through to the knockout phase were caught with a sucker punch of their own: Luiz Suarez’s handball denied a certain winner, the ensuing penalty kick was missed by Asamoah Gyan who, despite scoring in the shootout, couldn’t prevent his team from losing. Suarez, of course, is banned from the semi-final (though FIFA’s confirmed he’ll be eligible to play in the final) but will this prove a match too far for the rest of his side? Uruguayans will be looking to Diego Forlan and Sebastian Abreu (who didn’t just score the cheeky quarter-final winner but the goal that got Uruguay to South Africa last year) to shoot them to glory, while the back line attempts to stop one of Holland’s key men, winger Arjen Robben, who is now fit and flying after missing the start of the tournament due to a hamstring injury. Canny coach Oscar Tabarez has apparently drawn up a plan to stop him — perhaps he’s been speaking with the German students — and this should be the clash of the day.
The Dutch have quietly gone about their business, and presumably pay no mind to the criticism that’s come their way — in a word, unambitious — but you feel like they couldn’t care less, happy to show you their 100% record in their eight qualifying games, which now has added to it a further five victories in a row in South Africa. In total, Holland’s unbeaten run stretches to 24 matches. Manager Bert van Marwijk has managed to keep the all too common demon from infiltrating the ranks — in a word, self-implosion — and will be delighted from the effort shown by the likes of Wesley Sneijder, goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg (Edwin van der Who?), Dirk Kuyt and Joris Mathijsen. They’ve been so impressive that they’ve even been able to carry Robin van Persie, who has yet to deliver. As for Uruguay, the feeling persists that they still can’t believe (their luck?) that they’ve reached the semis, and quotes of, “We are among the four best teams at this World Cup…This is something we would never have imagined before coming to South Africa” (said by coach Tabarez) aren’t uncommon. Indeed, they should be delighted with making the semis for the first time since 1970 but it’s unlikely they’ll go any further. But perhaps lasting longer than neighbors Brazil and Argentina is almost akin to winning the World Cup itself.
Prediction: Uruguay 0-1 Holland
Wednesday, July 7: Germany vs. Spain — Boys Become Mannschaft
This re-run of the EURO 2008 final could just be the best game of the 2010 World Cup (no pressure lads!). And as surprising as it would have sounded on June 11, it will now be perceived as a slight shock if Germany doesn’t win the game. They’ve put four goals past three teams, and are two games from their one true goal: lifting a fourth World Cup. The Germans have never gone more than 20 years without winning the trophy and, ominously for the remaining teams, their last triumph was in 1990. They’ve been brilliantly led by coach Joachim Löw, who has been utterly unafraid to believe in youth (he’s also been utterly unafraid to wear those shocking shirts, but that’s for another blog entry), with the core of the 2009 Under-21 European championship side (and can you guess what score they won that final by? Yup, 4-0) performing with a style and swagger beyond their years. The likes of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, centre-back Jerome Boateng and, the breakout star of this World Cup, midfielder Mesut Özil have effortlessly stepped up a gear and, notwithstanding the group defeat to Serbia — which even included the rare missing of a penalty! — have been ruthless in the knockout phase, putting England and Argentina to the sword. Diego Maradona’s mouth is still agape.
Löw has admitted that he’s modeled his team on the opposition this Wednesday and stated that Spain’s “passing game is a celebration of football.” But despite reaching their first ever World Cup semi-final, the Spanish have yet to truly click and the fact that there’s uncertainty surrounding their starting XI puts them on the back foot. And the back foot is where striker Fernando Torres has spent the tournament: it wouldn’t be a surprise if Vicente del Bosque drops him for either Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas or Manchester City’s new signing David Silva. What is in their favor is that the other David, Villa, has been sublime, Iker Casillas won’t be easily beaten at the other end and Germany will miss the suspended Thomas Müller, another product of the youth system, who has been on a tear thus far. But while Spain will look to past glories to spur them on, Germany’s young guns will be feeling as if they can’t lose. And with their own old boy, Miroslav Klose, closing in on the all time World Cup scoring record, destiny seems to be with Germany. It will take a Spanish Armada to stop them.
Prediction: Germany 2-1 Spain