Since “I Didn’t See That Coming” was the title of my last post, I couldn’t repeat that for this post; however, I did not see this coming as the semifinal on this side of the bracket (I though Uruguay-Brazil was more likely). Sure some people might have picked this as a semifinal when the tournament made it to the final 16 or at the quarterfinal stage, but I doubt (m)any people would have predicted this at the beginning of the tournament. Not to take anything away from the Netherlands and Uruguay, but both teams are playing tomorrow thanks to mistakes and missed opportunities by the teams they ultimately defeated. A Brazil own goal (now credited to Wesley Sneijder) and red card meltdown by Felipe Melo helped propel the Dutch to their first semifinal since 1998. A miraculous stupid/sublime handball by Luis Suarez, the subsequent Asamoah Gyan missed PK and Ghana’s inability to make PKs as a team are the reason Uruguay are still alive. Despite making it to the semifinal thanks for a bit of luck, both teams have played well throughout the tournament – Uruguay has 4 wins and a draw, and the Dutch have 5 wins. The game (2:30 Eastern on Tuesday 7/6) should be a good one.
Goalkeeper – Neither goalkeeper is known on the world stage the way the goalkeepers on the other side of the draw are; however, both Fernando Muslera and Maarten Stekelenburg have played very well in this tournament. Muslera has only conceded 2 goals through 5 games and save two PKs against Ghana in the shootout to propel Uruguay to the semifinals. Muslera has played well enough this World Cup to, perhaps, draw the interest of some bigger clubs in Europe. At the very least, his play this summer has solidified his place as first choice at his club, Lazio. Stekelenburg has been equally as good, surrendering just 3 goals in the 5 Dutch wins. I didn’t think he would be able to withstand Brazil’s attack, but he was up to task. He made several stellar saves on Brazilian attacks and kept the Dutch in the game, allowing Sneijder and the rest of the Dutch attack to conjure a second half comeback. Stekelenburg’s performance must have also caught the eyes of the big clubs around Europe, and Ajax may be in for a fight to keep him in Amsterdam. Advantage: Uruguay by a small margin.
Defense – Both teams play four defenders across the back and have been solid throughout the tournament. Both teams are also facing injuries/suspensions along their back lines. The Celeste must play without their captain and best defender, Diego Lugano, who is out with a knee injury and left back Jorge Fucile who is out due to yellow card accumulation. With both players out, Uruguay will have a patchwork back line, which could make them vulnerable to the potent Dutch attack. Whoever replaces Fucile will have to deal with Arjen Robben, no easy task. The Dutch will also be without two of their starters. Right back, and one of my favorite defenders of the tournament, Gregory Van Der Wiel is suspended for yellow card accumulation, and center back Joris Mathijsen is questionable. The Dutch defense performed fairly well against Brazil but Mathijsen’s replacement, Andre Ooijer, kept Robinho on-side for Brazil’s goal. Given that Van Der Wiel’s likely replacement is Khalid Boulahrouz, an experienced defender, and Ooijer’s better play in the 2nd half, the Dutch are in better shape than Uruguay. Advantage: Netherlands
Midfield – As with the previous positions, both teams are getting strong performances from their midfields. Uruguay typically plays with 4 midfielders (although Edinson Cavani wanders forward quite often), while the Dutch play an attacking 5-man midfield (with Robben, Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt, playing in front of Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong. Uruguay’s central midfield has been strong, helping the defenders thwart attacks. Diego Perez will need to keep playing at a high level in order to disrupt the Dutch midfield. It is possible that Álvaro Pereira will be called upon to play left back, which would create a hole on the left side of the midfield. In addition, Uruguay will be without Nicolas Lodeiro, who has a broken foot, taking a bit of bite out of their attack. The midfield is the strong point for the Dutch, featuring Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Bommel and De Jong. De Jong, however, will be missing from the midfield due to yellow card accumulation. His absence shouldn’t prove too costly, as the other 4 members of the starting Dutch midfield are all world class players and will be able to play. Advantage: Netherlands
Forwards – Uruguay’s forwards have certainly been more potent than the Dutch forwards so far. Sneijder, a midfielder, leads the Dutch in scoring. Robin Van Persie, the starting Dutch forward, has only one goal during the World Cup and hasn’t really looked dangerous during many of the games. The Dutch are attacking much more out of midfield. Uruguay, on the other hand, has an in form Diego Forlán, who has 3 goals so far and has been dangerous from set pieces. Uruguay will be without Suarez (3 goals) following his game saving red card, which means that Edinson Cavani and Sebastián Fernández will be called on to replace his goal scoring. Forlán has been dangerous and has had a better tournament than Van Persie. If Suarez weren’t suspended, this would be a no contest for me. I think, on the whole, Uruguay’s forwards are more dangerous than the Dutch forwards. Advantage: Uruguay
These two teams are certainly no strangers to World Cup finals or semifinals. The Dutch have been to two finals (losing both) and finished 4th in 1998. Uruguay has won the World Cup twice (1930 and 1950) and finished 4th twice (1954 and 1970). Which team will be able to recapture the glories of the past? While both teams won two areas of the field, the Dutch midfield is just so much stronger than any part of Uruguay’s team (even counting Forlán, who has been splendid). The Dutch will use their strong midfield to dominate possession and break down Uruguay’s defense. The left side of the field could prove to be problematic for Uruguay, as Robben will be going against the replacement for Fucile. Sneijder has also been on fire and must be closely monitored. I see the Dutch winning this game, setting up an all European final.