The Final Four in S.A.

So much for South American dominance in South Africa. The semi-finals are here, and Europe – against the run of play – has emerged as dominant. Only the second-unlikeliest of the knockout round survivors from South America – Uruguay – survived as Brazil and Argentina went down rather meekly and Paraguay’s game effort against Euro champion Spain fell short.

Netherlands vs. Uruguay:

Give Holland credit. For all the criticism that they’ve abandoned their beautiful, attacking style they’re the only undefeated and untied team in the tournament. While they haven’t looked dominant in any game, they’ve soldiered through each one in workmanlike fashion – including their upset of Brazil. His diving may be shameful, but Arjen Robben is always dangerous whenever he takes the pitch, and he appears to be getting healthy. Unheralded support players like Snejder have stepped up, and the Dutch appear very solid in goal and in the back. For all the talk of a “new” Brazilian sense of responsibility and defense under Dunga, I always assume that if Brazil loses, it will be due to failures at the back – and two examples of terrible marking led to an own goal and a header by the 5’7″ Snejder in a matter of moments vs. Netherlands. In a flash the game turned, and Brazil never offered much resistance after that. Give Holland credit – slow and steady won the race.

Uruguay, like Paraguay, is a team of middling talent that gets by on rock-solid defending – but the difference between the two is that Uruguay has one player of true artistry and genius, Diego Forlan. Their match against Ghana was a classic right down to the unlikely end – Gyan failing on a last-second PK that resulted from a weak free kick offered by the referee. The Uruguayan keeper came up big in the shootout and they survived.

Prediction: Any team with Forlan is dangerous. The man can create goals from nothing. Still – Holland has given me no reason to think they can’t play responsibly and do what they must. This is their great opportunity to win their first World Cup and I believe they’ll take care of business vs. Uruguay.

Spain vs. Germany:

Germany’s clinical dismantling of Argentina was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in any World Cup. Argentina, for all their glittering offensive prowess, plays with no tactics under the bumbling fool Maradona. Germany patiently waited for mistakes after getting the early goal and punished Argentina for their lack of organization and poor work-rate. Clinical passing and team play easily trumped Messi and Tevez’ solo efforts. Germany is young, but incredibly deep and balanced – no team has more players that can hurt you on the offensive side of the pitch.

Spain was lucky to survive their match against a solid but outmanned Paraguayan squad. Put Forlan – or indeed, any creative attacking player – on that side and they might win it all. They took the game from Spain, marking tightly and doing a great job denying Spain time to execute their patented quick-passing, possession game. They even generated chances – a goal denied (correctly) by the referee, a wonderful save by Casillas, a missed PK. Spain, for their part, sometimes fall in love with their own reflection and lack the ability to land the finishing blow. They must accept that Torres is off his form and insert Fabergas into the starting 11 – they were far more dangerous with he and Pedro on the pitch.

Prediction: a classic rematch of the Euro 2008 final. This could be a beautiful game, with several goals – both sides like to attack and have the players to do it. Spain will not crumble at the back the way Argentina did, but Germany’s form is simply better and their young players appear to be coming of age, ably shepherded along by veteran stars like Klose and Schweinsteiger. I expect them to get through in a furious, exciting battle.


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