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FIFA World Cup: Netherlands v Uruguay – Semi-Final Preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

Just when we were looking down the barrel of the first World Cup Final without a European side since 1930 we now have three of them reaching the semi-finals.

The Netherlands were at their bruising best to overcome Brazil in their quarter-final clash. Brazil warm favourites to win started with purpose and enthusiasm. Cloaked in the aura that envelopes most Brazilian teams at World Cup tournaments it was looking like the Netherlands 23 game unbeaten run was coming to an end.
When Brazil went ahead after 10 minutes and were dominating possession it looked as though the Dutch would find it hard to find a way back. But after half time the momentum shifted. The Netherlands found an equaliser soon after the restart and then took the lead 15 minutes later. It is an old adage in sport that it doesn’t matter how good a team is, if they can be put under pressure then they can be made to look very ordinary indeed.
A team like Brazil is great when things are all going to plan but when the pressure goes on they become weighed down by the expectation that they should win. Anything less than a win at a world cup is unacceptable, as we have seen with the immediate sacking of Dunga and his assistants.
The Dutch were magnificent. They were tough, hard and fast. The hair stylist in the Dutch team doesn’t have much work to do because the majority if the team are down to No.1 cuts. They look like skinheads without the tattoo’s and the steel cap boots and they play a bit like them too. Hard, uncompromising and able to handle everything that is thrown at them.
Aren Robben as a key playmaker was obviously targeted by the Brazilians and he was hammered. Yet instead of rolling around on the ground and writhing in agony every time someone touched him, more often than not he stayed on his feet and tried to keep going. The Brazilians – to quote basketball terminology – got into foul trouble early against him and paid the price. All that close marking on Robben allowed Sneijder a little more latitude to carry on his outstanding tournament form.
Now the Dutch are somewhere they haven’t been for 32 years. Van Marwijk’s side has lost Nigel de Jong and defender Gregory van der Wiel to suspension, but is boosted by striker Robin van Persie and defender Joris Mathijsen being declared fit to play.
The Netherlands are clear favourites for this match. For them to advance to their first final since 1978 they will need to overcome themselves more than Uruguay. Top-level sports like tennis, rugby and football are littered with players and teams that have knocked over the ‘big one’ only to lose to a lesser opponent in the next round. For the Netherlands ‘big ones’ don’t come much bigger than Brazil. For them mentally to get themselves up after conquering an ‘Everest’ like Brazil is a huge challenge. There is no doubt that they have the players, the strength and the game plan to overcome Uruguay. If they can focus on their game and not the occasion then they should find themselves in the final.
Uruguay is a team that have exceeded expectations. Third ranked in a quartet of South American sides in the quarterfinals they now find themselves the sole standard bearer for South American football. Like Ghana who they defeated in the quarterfinals, Uruguay should draw strength from this and throw everything at the Dutch. They will be hoping the Netherlands are a bit jaded and slightly overconfident following their victory over Brazil. A lot of expectation will be resting on the shoulders of Diego Forlan to produce a world-class performance on the biggest stage. 
There is no doubt that Uruguay has the talent to win this game but with top goal scorer Luis Suarez suspended for his hand ball that kept his side in the tournament it is going to be an uphill battle. Defender Jorge Fucile is also serving a suspension and midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro is out with a broken foot.
Just how much the extra time and penalty shootout against Ghana have taken out of Uruguay will be revealed on Tuesday. Oscar Tabarez will have no trouble firing up his team one more time, but emotion and desire may not be enough to see them home. Obviously they will give it everything but in reality this match is the Netherlands to lose.
There have only been two previous clashes between these two sides. The Netherlands defeated Uruguay 2-0 in pool play at the 1974 World Cup and Uruguay defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in a friendly international in 1980.  

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