Cape Town, South Africa is the place to be tomorrow night as Uruguay takes on the Netherlands in the first semifinal of World Cup 2010.
It has been built as a matchup between South American fighters and European skill.
So without further ado, Máire takes you through Uruguay's World Cup to date, while LJS takes a look at the Dutch.
The winners of the first-ever World Cup return to the semifinals for the first time in 40 years. Winners in 1930 and 1950, La Celeste’s glory days looked to have been behind them. However, a favourable draw in South Africa has seen them progress to a Final Four showdown with the Netherlands .
Under Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay has been reborn. His side has built around a defense strong enough to keep out the best of attacks. To date, they have conceded only two goals in five games in South Africa .
Throughout the tournament, Tabarez has shown a willingness to alter his formation in order to neutralize the opposition while also getting the best from his attacking players—namely Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.
Uruguay started the tournament against France with a negative 3-5-2/4-4-2 formation, with Forlan and Suarez the only attacking threats. Although France was evidently out of sorts, this worked, as Tabarez’s side got their campaign started with a draw.
Since then they have kept their defensive control but gone for more attacking 4-3-1-2/4-3-3 formations, largely helped by the introduction of Edinson Cavani to the side.
Cavani, as a right-footed player, has operated down the right flank, with Forlan floating between the middle of the field as a link-man and the left wing and Suarez operating up front. This has given the South Americans much more width on the pitch.
To date, Uruguay ’s tactics have stifled the attacking threats of France , Mexico, and Ghana .
Their more expansive, attacking formation against the less formidable South Africa saw them ease past the hosts 3-0. Their nerve saw them overcome a 1-0 deficit to South Korea .
In the last round against Ghana, Uruguay reverted to more negative tactics. Tabarez largely played a 4-4-2 formation with Diego Perez and Egidio Averalo sitting deep to restrict the play of Kevin Prince Boateng, Asamoah Gyan, and Samuel Inkoom. This somewhat isolated Forlan and Suarez, but it paid off as Uruguay went through on a penalty shootout.
Expect more of the same against Holland .
Uruguay has become a master of allowing the opposition to have the ball only to stifle them and deny them any real chances of note. This could be a dodgy game against the Netherlands . So far, Uruguay has played teams that are no better than themselves—against the Dutch they will play a more technically gifted side.
It's one thing to stifle a Giovani Dos Santos or Boateng, but it's quite another to keep any three of Arjen Robben, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Robin Van Persie quiet.
In normal circumstances, this would be a big hurdle for Uruguay, but it has become massive now, as they have lost the services of Suarez and Jorge Fucile to suspension, and their creative spark in midfield, Nicolas Lodeiro, has a broken foot.
Uruguay 's best chance at success might be to target the aging Giovanni Van Bronckhorst down their right flank. However, with two of their biggest creative players missing, it may well be that they concentrate on defending and hope to nick a goal from a set-piece.
Once again the South Americans will rely on Forlan for inspiration. He has been many people’s player of the tournament so far. He links play between midfield and attack, benefits from through balls from midfield, is a willing runner, and puts on pressure high up the field while taking all of Uruguay ’s set-pieces.
He is sure to miss his partner in crime, Suarez, who is likely to be replaced by veteran journeyman Sebastian Abreu. While he scored a penalty of the most outrageous order , his general play will not worry the Dutch.
Tabarez’s tactical knowledge has taken Uruguay to a World Cup semifinal, and he will attempt to stifle the Dutch as he did with the French and Mexicans. However, the loss of key players and the technical quality of the Oranje should see the Dutch move on, especially with Robben back running the midfield.
Prediction: Uruguay 0-1 Netherlands
The Dutch won all their group games, and at the expense of sounding insipid, they also won their pre-quarter and quarterfinal matches.
They find themselves in the Final Four, having not always played "Elegant and Beautiful" soccer. But they are here, and deservedly so, for it’s implicit that any team that sends the "Kings of Samba" home has undoubtedly earned its place.
They match their wits in Cape Town tomorrow with the only South American side left in the field: Uruguay.
I think the crux of it comes down to the midfield formations for Netherlands. Until now, coach Bert van Marwijk has used their midfield as a shield for their fragile defense rather than as an engine supplying impetus to their offense.
Given the fact that their defender Khalid Boulahrouz has significant problems with opposition forwards who run on to him (Robinho), such protection from the back midfield is not an option but an absolute necessity for survival.
Uruguay’s defense, in itself, is not impenetrable. The defensive line, including both Diegos (Godin and Lugano), is injured as of now, and it is very foreseeable that Uruguay might go into the game with damage control as its first attitude.
It provides a perfect opportunity for Netherlands to use at least a part of the midfield as an engine to supply crosses to the forward line.
It is well advised to play Rafael Van Der Vaart with Mark Van Bommel in the midfield. Van Der Vaart can be the vital fulcrum who can increase the fluidity of service for Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben to run onto.
Van Persie is cleared to play, and he is dangerous as always. Given the state of Uruguay's defenders as of today, Robben might potentially be hard to contain.
I'm still not sure what position Dirk Kuyt actually plays; he kind of hangs around on the pitch for 90 odd minutes…but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He is the Joker in the pack, isn’t he?
If the Uruguay defense can shut down Robben and Van Persie, and neutralize Kuyt for the better part of 90 minutes, it is entirely possible they reach their first final through a Forlan strike late in the second half.
It’s very possible given the fact that Forlan can take on and get through Boulahrouz on the dead run.
But if the defense isn’t up to scratch and lets Robben do what he does best, we might just kiss the last South American hope in this World Cup goodbye.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-1 Uruguay