Durban: Having beaten World Cup favorite Brazil in the quarterfinals, Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has warned his players not to take the less illustrious South Americans of Uruguay for granted in the semifinals.
“Uruguay is a strong side and we will have to be very concentrated,” he said. “They are fighters, survivors.”
Uruguay, ranked 16th in the world, is a two-time World Cup winner, while the fourth-ranked Netherlands is still trying to shake off the tag of two-time loser after talent-packed Dutch teams lost to hosts Germany and Argentina in 1974 and 1978.
Uruguay’s players won’t accept being called underdogs for tomorrow’s match at Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium, despite only making the last four thanks to Luis Suarez’s hand ball on the line in the dying seconds of extra time in the quarterfinal against Ghana.
“I suppose the press have made the Netherlands favorite. I wouldn’t like to say that, it’s a World Cup semifinal,” captain Diego Lugano said.
“The Netherlands and Uruguay play differently but we are at this stage on merit and we’ll just have to see what happens in the match.”
Van Marwijk and his Uruguay counterpart Oscar Tabarez are both having to fill holes in their starting lineups caused by injuries and suspensions.
Chief among them will be the suspended Suarez, who knows all about scoring against Dutch defences -- he scored 43 times in 39 games for Ajax Amsterdam last season in the Eredivisie.
Full back Jorge Fucile also is suspended after picking up a second yellow card against Ghana, while central defender Diego Godin missed that game with a left thigh problem and remains in doubt.
Uruguay captain Diego Lugano also is fighting to be fit after injuring a right knee ligament against Ghana.
“The risk of pain is the last thing on my mind,” Lugano said.
“Everybody wants to play in these games but the question is whether I’m physically 100 percent to be able to play a game at this level.”
The Dutch defence will have to be reconstructed, with right back Gregory van der Wiel and defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong both suspended after collecting their second yellow cards of the tournament against Brazil. However injury clouds hanging over Hamburg center back
Joris Mathijsen and Arsenal striker Robin van Persie have disappeared, with both declared fit to play. Mathijsen has recovered from a knee injury that forced him out of the quarterfinal just minutes before kickoff and Van Persie can play despite injuring his left elbow against Brazil.
Van Persie has scored just one goal in the five victories leading into the semifinals in Cape Town, but midfielder Wesley Sneijder has picked up the scoring slack with four strikes, including both second half goals in the comeback 2-1 defeat of five-time champion Brazil.
“We’ve won five times in a row (at this World Cup) and the victory over Brazil gives us such confidence,” Netherlands captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst said. “Now we’re in the last four, we want to play the final.”
Uruguay may be missing Suarez, but still has one of the world’s top strikers, Diego Forlan, who already has three goals to his name in South Africa.
The Netherlands is on a 24-match unbeaten run and is in its first World Cup semifinal since 1998 in France, when it lost on penalties to Brazil.
The team has been criticised for sacrificing creative flair in its run to the semifinals, but Van Marwijk is refusing to change his winning formula of dominating possession with risk-free passes and patiently waiting for a scoring opening.
“Why does everyone want the coach to make changes all the time. You have to have more courage not to change,” Van Marwijk said.
Uruguay defender Mauricio Victorino thinks Van Marwijk has formed a formidable combination.
“The Netherlands is a great team with lots of players with individual quality that also work hard for the team,” he said.
“They have managed to get that balance between attacking power and defensive solidity.”
You can say the same about Uruguay, which has conceded just two goals at the World Cup. The Dutch have allowed three.
Uruguay is the sole South American survivor in the last four after Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay all crashed out in the quarterfinals. The other semifinal is an all European affair pitting European champion Spain against form team Germany in Durban.
Uruguay won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950, but last reached a semifinal in 1970 when the team finished fourth.
“It’s a very difficult match against the Netherlands,” Tabarez said.
“They haven’t lost a game so far, they’ve got great players and a lot of diversity in their play.
“They will start as the favorites and it’s going to be difficult, but not impossible.”