Johannesburg: Diego Maradona calls the first
knockout stage of a World Cup the point "where history really
That makes the quarter-finals the place where that
history takes shape and, in Africa`s first World Cup, it is
South American teams that are doing the most to define the
story of 2010.
The continent`s assault on the biggest prize in sport,
broader-based than ever before, reaches its rubicon tomorrow,
when Brazil and Uruguay attempt to book the first two
semi-finals places up for grabs.
Argentina and Paraguay could join them in crossing over
into the last four on Saturday in what would represent an
unprecedented clean sweep for the continent of Pele and
With European champions Spain standing in the way of
Paraguay, an all-South American line-up in the semis remains a
But a prediction that Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina will
all come through their quarter-finals against, respectively,
the Netherlands, Ghana and Germany, does not feel like it
comes from too far out in left field.
Even three out of four would represent uncharted
territory for South America but Uruguay will be acutely aware
that a place in the history books is also beckoning Ghana, who
can become the first African side to reach a semi-final if
they can break down a defence that has conceded only one goal
Ghana`s coach, Milovan Rajevac, admits the Uruguayans
represent a significant raising of the bar the Black Stars
must clear, but the affable Serb insists carrying the hopes of
an entire continent will not burden his side.
"Uruguay have a great tradition and players playing in
the best leagues in Europe," he said. "They deserve every
"But we will not change our style and we won`t worry
about any so-called pressure. We`re not under any obligation
to make history but that doesn`t mean we don`t want to."
Theories vary as to why the South American challenge has
been so vibrant after four decades in which their hopes were
almost exclusively carried on the shoulders of Argentina and
The tough, team-building nature of their qualifying
competition, a ten-nation round-robin which requires them to
play 18 matches, may be a factor.
Likewise the familiarity with altitude that comes with
qualifiers in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
Another issue is whether modern football, with its accent
on rigorous defensive organisation, places a greater premium
on individual moments of genius -- a Lionel Messi dribble, a
Kaka flick -- to unlock well-organised opponents and transform
the pattern of matches.
With the decline of street football in Europe, those kind
of players, it is argued, are now more likely to come from the
scruffy suburbs of Buenos Aires or Sao Paolo, their dexterity
of foot and mind honed by countless kickabouts in restricted
Whatever the explanation, it is clear the South Americans
have all arrived in South Africa in prime condition and
Spain`s coach Vincente del Bosque admitted to being extremely
wary of facing a Paraguay side that finished third -- above
Argentina -- in the qualifying campaign.
The odds on Spain claiming their first World Cup crown
have lengthened during their time in South Africa.
But a potential final meeting with Brazil, who have done
nothing to damage their pre-tournament favourites tag, looked
like it might be on again as they returned to their beguiling
best in the 1-0 second round win over neighbours Portugal.
"Basically, we enjoyed our football," a delighted Del
Bosque said, but he is not counting on a the joyful trend
continuing without his side putting in another concentrated
90-minute shift at Ellis Park on Saturday.
"We know how difficult it is to be victorious," he said.
"We can`t take anything for granted."
Neither will Argentina, despite displaying attacking form
that suggests they will be too smart and too strong for a
Germany side that, for all its verve, a little raw around the
Memories of a penalty shoot-out defeat by the Germans at
the same stage four years ago are still too fresh for that.