From Ground Zero: Now, it’s Europe versus South America in semis

Zee Media Bureau/Shobhan Saxena from Fortaleza

The stage is set for two big showdowns: Brazil versus Germany and Argentina versus Holland. This World Cup will almost see two finals already in the semis. It’s the best of South America versus the best of Europe, and nobody could have asked for better games. There will be drama, tension and lots of entertainment.

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On Saturday, the last day of quarter-finals, the Netherlands defeated Costa Rica on penalties in Salvador. The Dutch will now face the Argentinians in Itaquerão, Sao Paulo, on Wednesday (July 9). It will be the replay of the final of 1978 World Cup, which was won by the South American team. The game takes place a day after Brazil and Germany come into the field at Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, to repeat the final of 2002, also won by the South Americans.

Of the three semifinalists, the Netherlands is the only team which has never lifted the World Cup. It is also the team that most often comes so far in the Cup without ever winning it. For the fifth time, Holland is in the top four of the World Cup, repeating what it achieved in 1974, 1978, 1998 and 2010. In 2010, they even made it to the finals but lost to Spain 1-0.

Now, the stage is set for big names of world football like Messi, Mueller, Oscar and Robben to show their real class. For Messi, this is the real test of his greatness. Four years ago, after crashing out in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, Messi had to give some poor explanations as Argentina were once again eliminated before the semifinals. But on Saturday, with a smile on his lips, he spoke about the 1-0 victory over Belgium that took his team into the last four. "We are close to something very big. We have fulfilled our first goal to get in the four. Hopefully we go even further," said the Argentinian captain after the game.

Despite not scoring the winning goal (it came from Higuaín), Messi had moments of brilliance. He missed a great chance to make the Argentinian lead 2-0 in stoppage time but he could not beat the Belgian goalkeeper Courtois. "It was our best game. They did not create clear opportunities to score. We did not create many chances, but we were balanced," he added.
Before the tournament in Brazil, Messi had played two World Cups. In 2006 and 2010, in which Argentine national teams were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

"It was exciting at the final whistle. It`s a joy to give this happiness to the Argentine people. Will continue fighting for this dream," he concluded.

Even as Messi is leading the Argentinian challenge in the World Cup, the hosts Brazil are without their star striker Neymar, who got injured in his team’s quarter-finals game against Colombia on Friday. But Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has said he did not want to change the tactical squad even after losing Neymar. In an interview on Saturday, the manager still called Neymar’s injury a `catastrophe` but he sounded confident about the team’s chances. "We`ve lost something but we do not want to lose the semifinal and final. Even after a disaster, an opportunity arises to do something different," said the coach. 

Scolari said there was remote chance of using the 3-5-2 formation and he could put some players to play the role of Neymar. "We have good players like Willian, Ramires and Bernard who can play in the flanks with Oscar in the more central role. We have options," Scolari said.

While Scolari is known for his tactical planning, there is one more coach who is emerging as an icon at this World Cup. The Dutch coach Louis van Gaal made one of the biggest calls of this World Cup and saw it take his team in to a semi-final with Argentina on Wednesday. Having seen his team failing to score against Costa Rica for 120 minutes, Van Gaal sent on substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul to face the penalties. Krul had barely had time to warm up and the man he replaced, Jasper Cillessen, had made a great save in the 118th minute to keep his country in the competition. But Krul blocked two spot kicks and the Dutch moved into the semi-finals.

It was ironic that the goalless draw between the Netherlands and Costa Rica happened at Salvador, which has been named the "seat of the goals" of the tournament. With 0-0 in the quarter-finals, the Bahian stadium recorded an average of four goals per game. In Salvador, there were 24 goals in six matches. In Porto Alegre, there were 22 goals in five games.
As the World Cup now moves to its last stages, the goals have stopped raining. But football has become more intense and joyful.

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