We are down to 4 teams, with the semi-finals matches taking place on the 6th and 7th. Before previewing these 2 games let us take a quick look at what happened during the quarter-finals:
Netherlands 2 – Brazil 1: the Brazilian side had the match all but secured, as Robinho nailed the opener early in the 10th minute. They would have multiple chances to finish off the European side, namely with a Kaká lobbed shot that Stekelenburg masterfully defended. Teams which do not score usually pay the price and that was true here, as the Netherlands were able to reverse the score; they got the equalizer through a Filipe Melo own goal and then Sneijder headed home the winner as the result of a corner kick (bear in mind that Sneijder is 5’7” and that the entire Brazilian defense did nothing but watch). Still time for Filipe Melo (what a dreadful World Cup he had) to be rightfully sent off, for attacking Robben. The Brazilians still had some chances but they were psychologically hurt.
Dunga has already been fired, not only because Brazil did not advance any further, but also because he did not call up certain players, because he played too conservative and also because the traditiona “joga bonito” (play beautifully) Brazilian way of playing was shelved. Many are now calling for Scolari to return to the helm of the “escrete”.
Uruguay 1 – Ghana 1 (4-2 on penalty kicks): what a crazy game this was, with both sides having plenty of chances to put it away. Ghana scored on a beautiful outside shot by Muntari and then Diego Forlan got the equalizer by way of a direct free kick (bear in mind that keeper Kingson could have done better). Overtime was a mainly a dull affair, with both teams showing they were tired, as well as not wanting to take any unnecessary risks. But wait. One of the wildest moments in then entire history of World Cups came right at the end of the overtime period. With a corner kick Ghana had the last chance in the game and they had one shot denied right in front of the goal, a rebound, a second shot denied, a rebound and finally a third shot denied… by way of a Suarez handball right on the goal line. Suarez was immediately sent off and Ghana had a penalty kick to solve the matter. The unthinkable happened and Gyan missed the penalty, as it hit the crossbar. Ghana basically had four incredible chances in one minute, to solve everything, and they missed. In the penalty kicks the South American experience came on top and it was “El Loco” Abreu who scored the clincher, by way of a Panetta penalty kick. There is a reason why they call him “El Loco”.
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And so an entire continent, Africa, came crashing down back to reality in just a matter of a few minutes. Heartbreaker.
Germany 4 – Argentina 0: easily the most shocking and surprising result of the quarter-finals. Germany were playing well but Argentina seemed to be the biggest favorites to win it all. Germany scored very early through a Müller head kick which caught Moreno off guard. The Argentinian reaction was not as strong as expected, with only Di María having a good chance at goal; instead, it was Klose who squandered a great chance to go ahead 2-0. But the second half would bring forth a devastating Germany. Klose scored in the 68th minute, Friedrich in the 74th (after a great job by Schweinsteiger) and finally, once again, Klose made it 4-0 in the 89th minute. The Argentinians were utterly lost in the second half and the substitutions that Maradona made came too late (Pastore in the 70th minute and Agüero in the 75th).
The young Germans completely outclassed the star-studded Argentinian squad, placing Maradona’s job in danger, while also showing that you do not necessarily need big stars to have a great team. Just look at Podolski, a man who always plays better for his national side than he does for his home club. Also, take notice: in two consecutive games against England and Argentina, Germany have scored 8 goals.
Spain 1 – Paraguay 0: easily the weakest of the four quarter-finals games, as it was played at a rather slow pace. But it did have an extremely crazy moment of its own, rivaling that of the Uruguay vs Ghana match. In the second half striker Óscar Cardozo was taken down in the Spanish box by Pique (yellow card); with the match still goalless Cardozo stepped up but missed the penalty kick (or Casillas defended it, there are two ways to look at it). Just a few seconds later Spain had a suspicious penalty kick of their own as Villa was supposedly taken down inside the box by Alcaraz (yellow card). Xabi Alonso stepped up and scored what seemed to be the opener but referee Carlos Batres decided to become the star of the match and ruled that the penalty kick had to be re-taken due to encroachment (a ridiculous call); Xabi tried his luck once again but this time keeper Villar was able to defend it. In the process, Fabregas tried to drive home the rebound and Villar obviously took him down but no penalty kick was awarded. In the end it was Villa who drove home the lone goal in this game, after a great job by Iniesta. Bear in mind that the ball hit the post three times in the play before finally going in.
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And now the semi-finals match-ups look like this:
Uruguay vs Netherlands (July 6th): Uruguay are 2-time World Cup winners, even if that was ages ago (1930 and 1950). Netherlands, on the other hand, are 2-time losers in World Cup final (lost to West Germany in 1974 and then to Argentina in 1978). But history is history and the Netherlands seem like the stronger between these two sides, especially considering they are coming off a great win over perennial favorites Brazil.
Forlán and Suárez both have 3 goals for Uruguay in this World Cup but Suárez will undoubtedly be the biggest absent in this match, due to his sent off in the match against Ghana (still, Suárez is considered a national hero these days). Uruguay will eventually look to counter-attack and they have shown strength in the set pieces department.
On the other hand, the Dutch have an attack sure to give fits to any national side, with Sneijder (4 goals) and the recovered Robben at the helm. Robin Van Persie, the striker, has been somewhat of a letdown so far in this tournament, but you never know when that can change. Stekelenburg has been a factor for Holland between the posts and they have so many options up front that it is hard to cope with such an array of weapons and solutions.
Common sense would say that the Netherlands will make it through, but this has been a World Cup with heaps of surprises. Uruguay are trying to come into soccer prominence once again (and perhaps they have already succeeded in doing so) while the Netherlands is trying to become more than what they have been for the past 20 years: a great team but with few titles to show for (just an European championship in 1988).
Spain vs Germany (July 7th): Germany (if we also consider West Germany) are 3-time World Cup winners, while also having been defeated in the final 4 times; they are coming off a third place showing in the 2006 World Cup. Spain are the current European Champions but their World Cup history is a bit more sketchy, with a modest 4th place in 1950 as their best outing. Still, this is 2010 and, in 2008, Spain beat Germany in the European Football Championship final, by way of a Fernando Torres goal.
This Spanish side is pretty much the same as it was in 2008, with Barcelona players as the team’s foundation, along with some players from Real Madrid and a few others; this is the biggest strength of this squad: disciplined, carousel-like ball movement, as its players know how to play with each other. David Villa has been tremendous, as he is currently leading all scorers with 5 goals; on the other hand Fernando Torres, coming off injuries, has been a disappointment and might not even start. A team with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Puyol, Iniesta, among others, is a tough match-up for any national side.
The Germans, on the other hand, are a very different side from the one Spain beat in 2008, as the youth movement has clearly paid off: Podolski, Khedira, Müller (who won’t play against Spain due to accumulation of yellow cards) and Özil form the backbone of this team, while veteran Miroslav Klose already has 4 goals in this competition. Still, the loss of Müller (who has also scored 4 goals so far) will undoubtedly hurt, and this one of the big issues, as Joachim Löw will have to come up with a plan B.
The mechanic ruthless efficiency will collide with the creativity and flair. And, against what is tradition, the former is Spain and the latter is Germany.