Semi-Final 1: The haves & the have nots
Barring Brazil for whom every World Cup has to be won, and England, who come hoping to lionise the tournament but are smacked out early, a semifinal berth is considered a job well done. For the quartet still in business in South Africa, that could be the biggest hurdle between a showing that is satisfactory and superlative.See more | Match-up Zone | Roads to semi-finals
Uruguay haven’t been this far since 1970, but for Holland, within a game of ending a 22-year final pang, it’s worse.
They qualified for the semifinals beating five-time champions Brazil, which for many could feel like winning the World Cup.
“Finally, finally we won… If you can eliminate Brazil, the best team of the championship… the feeling is fantastic,” Wesley Sneijder’s comment after the quarterfinal summed up what the victory meant.
Coach Bert van Marwijk will hope that the three days between the quarterfinal in Port Elizabeth and Tuesday’s game here are enough for the focus to return, focus that has stretched Holland’s unbeaten run to 24 games.
“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,” he said. And after the quarterfinal he had said it was just as well that the team was far away from the euphoria at home.
Uruguay have won the World Cup twice and been semifinalists twice more before this (1954 and 1970) but their physical brand of football doesn’t wow too many and, of late, even qualification for the finals has been a struggle.
They too have survived a night of incredible emotions where, following a last-minute send-off and a penalty, all seemed lost.
“We didn’t play well but we’ve gone through. It seems there’s something forcing us on,” said coach Oscar Tabarez after beating Ghana. It’s been their story for a while now.
Now, Tabarez will hope Uruguay show the kind of poise Sebastian Abreu did while chipping Ghana out of Africa’s World Cup.
With Luis Suarez suspended, Abreu could start, though Uruguay will be hoping that the Diego Forlan magic that’s fetched three goals in this competition works once more.
With Robin van Persie and Joris Mathijsen fit, Holland don’t have injury worries. Central midfielder Nigel de Jong is suspended and could be replaced by either by Stijn Schaars or Rafael van der Vaart.
In Sneijder and Arjen Robben — whose theatrics at playing hurt are as dangerous as his forays down the right —Uruguay have identified the dangermen all right but as Abreu, 33, said, it is one thing to know them and quite another to deal with them.
“Tabarez has been talking to us about Robben and how to stop a player like him from going forward, but it’s always different when you are on the field,” said Abreu, whose goal against Costa Rica made Uruguay the last of the 32 qualifiers and one he rates as the best of his career so far.
Not given much chance of getting out of a group that had France, Mexico and the hosts, Uruguay have shown that it pays to believe in miracles. “Holland are the favourites. It’ll be difficult but not impossible,” Tabarez said.