So, we are down to the last 4 of the World Cup.
Uruguay face the Netherlands.
One won the World Cup in its very first edition back in 1930 (and would go on to win it once more) while the other reached the finals twice consecutively and will have to live forever with the tag of ‘The most beautiful team never to have won the WC’ – unless, of course, they win this time.
What does history tell us?
The two sides have met on four occasions in all, with Uruguay winning three times and the Dutch winning once.
The two sides’ only previous meeting in the World Cup came in 1974 when the Dutch won 2-0 in a group game, with Jonny Rep netting both goals.
Uruguay are without a win in their last 13 World Cup finals games against European opposition (six draws, seven losses) with their last success over a European side coming in 1970 when they beat the Soviet Union 1-0 in a quarter-final.
Diego Forlan may have scored four World Cup finals goals (2002-present), but he is yet to find the net against a non-African team.
The Dutch have lost just two of their 10 meetings with South American sides in World Cup finals (not including penalty shoot-outs).
So, Holland slight favourites then?
ROAD TO THE SEMI-FINALS
No one, and by that I really mean no one, expected Uruguay to come this far. And they have done it with lots of drama and style. They have conceded only 2 goals so far, and came from behind to defeat Ghana, albeit in bizarre fashion.
The question on everyone’s lips is if Uruguay is “all about Forlan”. And it’s hard to think otherwise. Forlan has been their hero, the focal point of their attack. He shoots, he dribbles, he’s deadly from set-pieces and the Jabulani is clearly causing this man no problems whatsoever (cue: Sepp Blatter’s huge sigh of relief). He has got all their vital goals and set-up the other ones. Experienced, with a Europa League medal in his bag, this guy is on FIRE! With Suarez suspended, Forlan will have to show all that fire and hunger – and more – if Uruguay are to get anything from this match.
Forlan & co. apart, let’s look at Uruguay’s defence. Like I said before, theirs has been one of the most impressive throughout the tournament, conceding only a free-kick against Korea and a stunner of a goal against Ghana, by INTER-MILAN FAG Muntari .
But Uruguay’s defence against Holland is bound to get a complete make-over of sorts.
Having started the match against Ghana without Diego Godin, their inspirational captain Diego Lugano picked up an injury midway through the match and was limping even through the celebrations. Both these players’ participation in the semis is not yet confirmed and in the worst case scenario, Uruguay will have to start with a centre-back pairing of Victorino and Scotti – who, although not too bad against Ghana, are definitely a class below Lugano and Godin.
And to add to all this, their left-back Jorge Fucile will miss the semi-final match through suspension, with Juventus’ Martin Caceres most likely to replace him.
This match will be a real test of Uruguay’s depth and you can be sure that anything less than Uruguay’s best defenders on the pitch will not be good enough against the Dutch attack.
Their keeper, Muslera, will be confident after saving 2 penalties against Ghana, but he has looked nervous with his positioning for crosses and long-balls. Keeping in mind how Netherlands scored against Brazil, he better be wary.
Uruguay’s midfield will have their busiest night yet, and Arevalo-Rios and Diego Perez will be asked to be their solid selves, close down Netherlands and not gift them space and time with the ball. Rios and Perez have been impressive so far, but will really have to step it up against the technically superior Dutch.
Arevalo-Rios hyphenated? yes
Against Ghana, Alvaro Fernandez started instead of Alvaro Pereira. Fernandez played on the right, but rarely looked like creating anything dangerous against Ghana whereas Pereira’s (when he started against South Korea) movement added an element of flexibility for the likes of Forlan and Suarez.
And up front, like I mentioned before, Forlan is the one to watch. He is their talisman, their key player, the one who is most likely to have the biggest influence. He has played in a deep playmaker role for Uruguay so far in this tournament as opposed to playing simply as striker (which is what he does for Atletico Madrid). This effectively gives him more control of his team’s offence, allows him to link the midfield with the attack and pick Suarez with his vision and passing. Switching wings with ease, Cavani sits behind Forlan and tries to channel Uruguay’s attacks through him.
With Suarez suspended, Uruguay’s coach Tabarez will have to think of something. He has the option of bringing in Sebastian Abreu, who so calmly chipped in the winning penalty for Uruguay. An alternative would be to move the versatile Cavani up front and bring in Nicolas Lodeiro. Lodeiro had a nightmare start to the World Cup, being suspended minutes after coming on as a sub against France. But the suspension apart, he has looked impressive till now, and is a perfect creative outlet. The second option- starting Lodeiro – looks more likely, as his creativity and craftiness will be needed in abundance.
Eitherways, Tabarez has some real thinking to do ahead of the match and he has to get his best team on the pitch to stand any chance against the in-form Dutch.
Netherlands are ever so desperate to shed the tag of also-rans and their time just might have come.
They have been impressive so far though some people (expecting a repeat of the drubbing that Netherlands gave France and Italy in the Euros two years ago) are somewhat disappointed. Their famed attack has not exactly ripped defence to pieces but has grounded out hard–fought wins, which are just as impressive ( They have sacrificed a little “spectacular” for the solid), if not more.
The Dutch defence has conceded 3 goals so far, 2 of them being penalties. Loris Mathijsen picked up an injury before the match against Brazil and Andre Ooijer came on to replace him. Their mediocre first-half performance was followed by a solid second-half where they held the backline. If I remember correctly, Brazil didn’t get even a sniff at goal in the second half. They will need all the experience they can get from van Bronckhorst at left-back. van der Wiel will miss the match through suspension and Khalid ‘The Cannibal’ Bolahrouz will replace him.
The biggest blow for Holland though will be the absence of De Jong, who had a fantastic game against the Brazilians. His ability to win back balls and tackle with full vigour will be sorely missed. Ajax’s Demy De Zeeuw will most likely be handed the task of replacing him. He will have the rough and tough van Bommel by his side, and van Bommel needs to be as sharp as he has been throughout this tournament, if not more.
Up front, expect an unchanged line-up. Sneijder to start in the middle, whose 3 goals so far – against Slovakia, Japan and Brazil – have all been winners. He has yet to hit the heights of his club form, but he is still their main playmaker and can change a game with one single moment of brilliance. And oh, this fella is a major set-piece threat too.
Kuyt on the left, and Robben on the right. Kuyt had a kuyt quiet night against Brazil, when he had Alves and Maicon on his flank (WHO THE HELL WOULDN’T?), but expect him to play a slightly more offensive role this time around, and get involved a lil’ more. Robben will be playing his usual “catch me if you can” style and will create a nuisance of himself. He will win free-kicks and Holland’s attacks will be the most dangerous from his side.
Up front, van Persie (who really has to hit full stride) will be looking to get a goal or two. RvP has found the net only once so far but to be fair, he was starved of service against Brazil and he does look sharp and dangerous with the ball. His pace and ability to turn his marker inside out will be a concern for the Uruguay defence, more so keeping in mind that Lugano and Godin are unlikely to start.
If Netherlands can keep Forlan quiet, this match is over already. That’s not to say Uruguay are a one-man team, but these guys are going nowhere if Forlan does not find the net. Netherlands have enough firepower in their attack to play an average game and still get a goal with one sublime moment of magic – Sneijder and Robben are more than capable of that. Uruguay can learn a thing or two from Paraguay yesterday, especially how Parguay closed down Spain and didn’t give them even one extra second with the ball.
And Uruguay can’t afford to be wasteful against Holland. Something Paraguay learnt the hard way yesterday against Spain.
Prediction: Scoreless first half, but Netherland’s quality eventually shines through in the second half. 2-0 to Netherlands.