Cape Town: Both Uruguay and the Netherlands are small nations steeped in World Cup history but only one has the ability to progress to another final when the sides meet on Tuesday evening in Cape Town.
It’s been 60 years since the Celeste were on top of the world, yet Oscar Tabarez’s side stand only 180 minutes from arguably their greatest ever success. The story could have been very different after a dramatic quarter-final meeting with Ghana that saw the South Americans come through in remarkable circumstances.
Having fallen behind in first half stoppage time, Uruguay battled back after the break thanks to a goal from Diego Forlan. When Luis Suarez was dismissed in the very last minute of stoppage time for handling a goalbound header on the line it seemed he had earned his side only a temporary reprieve but Asamoah Gyan sent his penalty against the bar. From a seemingly impossible position, the Celeste then won on penalty kicks.
“The ‘Hand of God’ now belongs to me,” Suarez cheekily proclaimed to the press after the game. “There was no alternative for me. This was the end of the World Cup and when I saw Gyan miss the penalty it was a great joy. I thought ‘it is a miracle’.”
Uruguay’s football history is marked with controversy due to the stereotypically unscrupulous nature of their defending, but this was not la Garra Charrua – the fighting spirit of the Uruguayans – as seen before. Nevertheless, the Celeste will no longer have the support of neutral South Africans after such a notorious incident, which Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac labelled “an injustice against football”.
Organised at the back, dangerous up front and prepared to do anything to earn progression through to the final, Uruguay should not be discounted.
No Targets Reached Yet
Along with Spain, the Netherlands are often cited as the best nation never to win the World Cup. Unlike la Furia Roja, the Dutch have come incredibly close to enjoying such success, finishing second in quick succession during the 1970s. The golden era of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens et al may be over, but there is a new generation of superstars now plying their trade in the iconic orange shirts.
And this could be the Netherlands’ year. Brazil have often proved to be the nemeses of the Dutch in the past, but the Selecao were wrestled aside, despite the South Americans taking a first half lead. A brace of Wesley Sneijder goals early in the second half turned the game around, and this pragmatic Dutch side thereafter refused to let their grip on the fixture go.
Bert van Marwijk, the coach of the Oranje, firmly believes that his side will take their spot in the final come July 11, though he has urged his players not to allow their mental focus to slip.
“We have been down this road before in the past with other Dutch teams and the Dutch people have been let down time and again,” he reminded his squad via a press conference. “We have to take the duel with Uruguay very seriously because, mentally, it is difficult to get yourselves back into the mix after a victory against Brazil.
“It has now been two years that I have been trying to get the players to understand that in order to be world champions, they must shine regularly without ever letting up. We haven`t succeeded in our mission yet. The target, to be crowned champions, is not yet achieved.”
It has been clear from the outset that Van Marwijk has had a clear plan for his side, and boasting an imperious record in competitive matches (13 wins from 13 games), the Netherlands can justifiably approach this fixture with high expectations.
DREW 1-1 aet – won 4-2 on penalties (n) Ghana (World Cup, July 2)
WON 2-1 (n) South Korea (World Cup, June 26)
WON 1-0 (n) Mexico (World Cup, June 22)
WON 3-0 (a) South Africa (World Cup, June 16)
DREW 0-0 (n) France (World Cup, June 11)
WON 2-1 (n) Brazil (World Cup, July 2)
WON 2-1 (n) Slovakia (World Cup, June 28)
WON 2-1 (n) Cameroon (World Cup, June 24)
WON 1-0 (n) Japan (World Cup, June 19)
WON 2-0 (n) Denmark (World Cup, June 14)
Oscar Tabarez has been able to pick a steady team in the competition to date but will have to re-jig his side a little for this game. It may well be that Diego Lugano is ruled out after having to go off early in the Ghana clash with a knee problem, while there is hope that Diego Godin will be fit to return. Nicolas Lodeiro is definitely out, having fractured a bone in his right foot.
Luis Suarez, of course, is suspended after his match-winning indiscretion against the Black Stars. He will be free to return for the final, should the Celeste emerge victorious. Jorge Fucile is also out due to a one-match ban.
Probable Starting XI: Muslera; M. Pereira, Scotti, Victorino, A. Pereira; A. Fernandez, Arevalo, Perez, Cavani; Abreu, Forlan
The good news for Bert van Marwijk is that any fears over the fitness of Robin van Persie have already been allayed and the striker, who picked up an elbow injury against Brazil, will be ready to take his place in the starting XI against Uruguay.
Joris Mathijsen is expected to come back into the team after missing the weekend’s game with a non-serious knee problem.
Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong are banned after picking up yellow cards against the Brazilians. Demy de Zeeuw is expected to step in for De Jong, while Khalid Boulahrouz will play right-back.
Probable Starting XI: Stekelenburg; Boulahrouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst; Van Bommel, De Zeeuw; Kuyt, Sneijder, Van der Vaart; Van Persie
PLAYERS TO WATCH
With the defence depleted, Uruguay are going to have to look for inspiration elsewhere in their side. To that end they may well see Diego Perez as the man who can really drive them on. Never afraid to deal out a thumping challenge, the Monaco midfielder will be the man deployed to stop the Dutch playing, an aspect of the game that will likely take up much of the Celeste’s energies come Tuesday.
Wesley Sneijder was the match-winner for the Netherlands on Friday afternoon, and he will hope to play such a pivotal role again in this encounter. The playmaker has been at the peak of his powers for much of this season with club side Inter, and after finding the net twice against Brazil still has hopes to crown a memorable campaign with a World Cup winner’s medal and the Golden Boot. For a player more noted for his exceptional passing, that would be quite an achievement.
It’s the European side who go into this encounter as big favourites, something that is mirrored in the Castrol World Cup Match Predictor, which gives the Netherlands a 65 per cent chance of progression. Uruguay’s squad is depleted and the opinion of the crowd will also work against them. The Celeste will therefore struggle to make an impression against a Dutch outfit who have looked impressively efficient to this point. Brimming with confidence, expect to see the Oranje in the final.