World Cup Semi Final Preview: Uruguay vs The Netherlands

In Football on July 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm


Sebastian Abreu keeps his cool to send his side through

How They Got Here…

Do we really need to go back over this? Probably not, but I will anyway, because there are some very pertinent points concerning their quarter final win over Ghana which nobody seems to be mentioning. We’ll get to that though.

To remind you of their progress from Group A, they started the tournament on a bit of a bum note, labouring to a 0-0 draw with France. That game also featured a red card for Nicolas Lodeiro. Despite the disappointing showing, that match gave us our first look at their disciplined defensive lines which frustrated the French.

The Uruguayans then improved massively in their second match, spanking the hosts 3-0, before easing past Mexico 1-0 to top the group.

That set them up for a last 16 match against South Korea. Luis Suarez (more on him later) put them in front early on with his 2nd goal of the tournament and they looked on course for a straightforward win. That was when they showed the first signs of mental frailty, sitting deeper and deeper and ceding control of the match until they inevitably conceded their 1st goal of the tournament.

Their reaction was highly encouraging, as they upped the tempo, took over the midfield and carved chance after chance until Suarez scored again with a peach of a curler that snuck in off the post.

They held on there to set up their date with Ghana, and World Cup infamy.

We all know the story. The brave Ghanaians toiled in the name of Africa, only to be denied at the last by those cynical South American cheats. That’s the line the papers are feeding us anyway, but try to detach yourself from the pro-Ghanaian agenda here, and look at what actually happened.

The truth is that these teams were very evenly matched. Both had their chances, and each had periods of ascendancy in the game. One of the key moments in extra time also came well before the Suarez spike off the line. About 10 minutes before, substitute Abreu had stolen in front of John Pantsil to try and get on the end of a dangerous centre. Realising he was beaten, Pantsil flicked out a leg and brought him down in the most cynical manner imaginable. They got away with it though, as the referee was following the ball and missed the lucky Pantsil’s foul play. Unfortunately, I have yet to see this mentioned in any match report. It could be argued that it was a comparable injustice to the handball.

Also lost amid the furore was the lead up to that fateful incident. The free kick on the touchline was an unbelievable decision, as the Ghanaian player tripped over his own feet. Then as the ball is swung across, two of the Black Stars are standing in an offside position. The ball gets flicked on towards the goalmouth – where another player is offside!

To my mind, La Celeste can justifiably argue that Suarez should never have been put in a position where he was forced to handball, had the linesman been doing his job.

Final prospects

Suarez and Uruguay celebrate

Handball he did though, and so one of the main threats in this Uruguayan side will now miss the semi final clash with Holland. Not only that, but the playmaking Lodeiro will also be sidelined, having suffered a broken foot.

This will blunt the Uruguayans attack considerably. The movement and pace of Suarez, coupled with the creativity and trickery of Lodeiro would have been central to any plans of unlocking the leaden-footed Dutch defence.

Also doubtful are captain Diego Lugano, and central defensive partner Diego Godin, who was so impressive in the group stages before succumbing to injury. With Jorge Fucile suspended, that means they could be missing three of their first choice back four.

For this reason, I find it very difficult to see them advancing to the final. Trying to contain Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and co with such a depleted squad will be a tall order – but they’ve revelled in upsetting the odds so far this tournament.

The Netherlands

Wesley Sneijder equalises against Brazil

How They Got Here…

Five wins from five would suggest a steam-roller of a Dutch side. That is far from the truth, however. They struggled to break down Denmark in their opener and then were lucky to escape with three points against Japan in Group E. The return of Robben gave them a boost against the Cameroon, and they sauntered into the knockout stages with nine points.

The plucky Slovakians were next on the menu, and the Oranje advanced as expected, though without setting any pulses racing. The quarter final against Brazil was the match that really showed us what they were made of.

The goal that sent the Dutch through

Conceding to a startlingly simple goal in the opening 10 minutes would have knocked the stuffing out of a lesser outfit, but they simply regrouped and came again. Probing and prodding at the Brazilian defence, they were finally handed a lifeline midway through the 2nd half when a Julio Cesar brainstorm allowed Sneijder to draw them level. It was the diminutive midfielder who put them ahead just a few minutes later, and it was Dunga’s turn to feel the pressure.

As it turns out, his side were made of much more volatile stuff. The thing that sets champions apart from good sides, is their ability to deal with pressure. The time bomb that is Felipe Melo went off. The Samba boys crumbled and proved that they are merely an excellent side, not champion material. Not this year at least.

Final prospects

The Dutch will be missing the two suspended players, Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong. That could open up space for Edison Cavani, but he’s just as likely to balloon one into the stands as thread a pinpoint through ball. The worry will be that Mark van Bommel picks up an early booking, as that could leave the dark one exposed to Diego Forlan’s penetrating runs. He’s a master at doing just enough to not get booked though, and if he can keep a tight leash on the Atletico man, Uruguay will find it difficult to find a way through.

Even if they do, they’ll only have a small part of the job done. Judging by how they reacted to going ahead against the Koreans, and how Holland reacted to falling behind to Brazil, they’d be doing well to hang on.

That tie with Brazil was the first time in the competition that the Netherlands were truly tested. Happily for Bert van Marwijk, his players passed with flying colours. Trailing the favourites and under the cosh, they kept cool heads and methodically worked their way back into the match. That kind of clear thinking will serve them well, and is one of the reasons why I believe they can advance to this year’s final.

Another is the form of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. With Uruguay physically and emotionally drained after the incredible events of their quarter final, they need to raise themselves againfor this one. Considering the fact that they are missing nearly half of their first choice 11, it’s very difficult to see anything other than a Dutch victory.


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