Tuesday, June 6
Tonight's first World Cup semifinal in Cape Town is seen as a foregone conclusion. The Netherlands are expected to beat Uruguay and reach a third World Cup final, especially after having overcome favourites Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Uruguay's passage was slightly more fortuitous as they relied on the crossbar to get by Ghana in an emotionally charged game in Soccer City.
The red card awarded to Luis Suarez for his hand ball will see him miss the semifinal but not their final game, be that the final or the third place match in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. The Holland-based striker is not the only major absentee from this semifinal, however.
Uruguay are also without the suspended defender Jorge Fucile and potentially captain Diego Lugano, who came off injured in the first half of the quarterfinal with the Black Stars.
Nicloas Lodeiro, billed as the next big star of Uruguayan football, is out for the remainder of the tournament, having sustained a broken bone in his foot. The absence of up to three guaranteed starters should hinder La Celeste's chances of reaching the final once again.
The good news is that Diego Godin should return from injury to replace Lugano, while Barcelona misfit Martin Caceres is ready to step in for Fucile. Oscar Tabarez looks likely to return to 4-4-2 with Suarez absent, meaning there is no place for Friday's hero, Sebastian Abreu.
Holland are not without problems of their own. Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Weil are both suspended, having picked up second yellow cards against Brazil.
The absence of de Jong in particular could be crucial for the Dutch. He may not be everyone's favourite player, but the Manchester City midfielder knows how to break up opposition attacks and is not afraid to put in a tackle, which is why he was suspended in the first place.
Khalid Boularhouz and Demy de Zeeuw have no game time thus far and will be the two most likely to be thrown in at the deep end tonight.
Both sides have reached this point with contrasting performances. Uruguay's progress has been something of a fairytale. The two-time winners have not reached such a stage since 1970 and their prominence as an international football nation has long been forgotten.
What an irony it would be if the one team to break the monopoly of the World Cup by the footballing superpowers was the one country who has done it before. With only 3.5 million people, they are already the smallest country to have won the trophy, but to do so in this era would be an unprecedented achievement.
The Uruguayans have been one of the tournament's most impressive teams. They are strong at the back, but attack with purpose—having such a talented forward line helps in that regard. They are organised but possess a goal threat. Winning their group has ultimately been the catalyst for their adventure to the semifinals.
Holland, meanwhile, were always expected to reach the quarterfinals. Their showdown with Brazil was always going to be the defining game of their tournament. Victory would mean a successful 2010 but defeat would suggest failure. Win they did, and now a place in the final is expected with only Uruguay standing in their way.
Despite beating Brazil, the Dutch have stuttered their way through their first five games. Teams have defended against them more often than not and the penetration has not always been there to break down negative sides like Japan and Denmark. The return of Arjen Robben has seen an improvement and greater variation in their options in the midfield. That may prove to be the difference tonight.
The two countries have met at a World Cup only once before. Holland's emergence as a footballing power coincided with Uruguay's demise. In 1974 the Dutch beat the South Americans 2-0 in Germany. Uruguay have won their other three encounters, though.
Also, Uruguay have broken the record for World Cup matches played in a single tournament. Twenty-five games have been negotiated over the past three years to get to this point, including 20 to qualify and five in South Africa already. Two more are guaranteed.
Tonight's game should be a tight affair as both teams are on the cusp of achieving something unexpected. The Dutch will just be hoping it doesn't go to penalties.
Holland (4-5-1): Stekelenburg, Boularhouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst, de Zeeuw, van Bommel, Kuyt, Sneijder, Robben, van Persie.
Uruguay (4-4-2): Muslera, M Perriera, Godin, Victorino, Carceres, A Perreira, Gargano, Alevano Rios, Perez, Cavani, Forlan