Netherlands vs Uruguay – FIFA World Cup 2010 Uruguay vs Holland (Netherlands) semifinals preview. For Uruguay and the Netherlands, the burden of past glories often has been more of an obstacle than their small size.
World champions in 1930 and 1950, Uruguay has been overshadowed since by neighbors Argentina and Brazil. The stars on its famous sky blue shirt are a reminder of a quainter period, before the demands, finances and popularity of the modern game meant that a nation of barely 3.5 million could hope to compete on the global stage.
If not for its accomplishments more than a half century ago, Uruguay would be considered a third-rate soccer nation, forced to be content with producing the occasional star and winning a game every now and then at the World Cup. Before this summer, La Celeste hadn’t made it past the second round since 1970.
Inspired by the great Johan Cruyff and a generation of players committed to expressing their individualism both on the field and in the locker room, the Dutch reinvented the game in the 1970s with Total Football. The skill, movement and versatility of those Clockwork Orange sides is still revered, but their losses in the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals were a sign of problems to come.
Unable to close the deal, put teams away, come together when the moment demanded, Holland gradually became more famous for its defeats. With the exception of the European title won in 1988, the Netherlands has been regarded as a country capable of producing world class players, but one which routinely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on the world stage. The individualism that had launched the Dutch soccer revolution often was the culprit.
On Tuesday night here in Cape Town, in a stadium set between the ocean on one side and the imposing Table Mountain on the other, one of those countries will finally return to glory. The 2010 World Cup final beckons.
The countries have met once before in a World Cup, with Holland winning a first-round game in 1974, 2-0. The Dutch wound up losing the final to host Germany.
This is Holland’s fourth trip to the World Cup semifinals. They were victorious in 1974 and 1978 and lost to Brazil on penalty kicks in 1998. In 2006, the Netherlands lost to Portugal in a ridiculous second round game famous for featuring 16 yellow cards and four reds.
Uruguay has been this far four times. La Celeste were winners in 1930 and 1950, lost to Hungary in 1954 and fell to eventual champions Brazil in 1970. Its last World Cup victory prior to this summer was in 1990. It failed to qualify for three of the subsequent four tournaments.
How They Got Here
The Netherlands has been perfect — 8-0-0 in an easy qualifying group that included Norway, Scotland, Macedonia and Iceland and 5-0-0 in the finals. Here in South Africa, the Dutch have been only as good as they had to be on a given day. No routs or command performances, just methodical, intelligent soccer punctuated by the genius of playmaker Wesley Sneijder and the return of the marauding Arjen Robben, whose strong runs on the ball can unsettle just about any defense.
The big test came in the quarterfinals, where Holland trailed tournament favorite Brazil, 1-0. The Dutch passed the test, summoning the confidence to take the game to Brazil in the second half with intelligent passing and effort. Sneijder scored twice, and the semifinals beckoned.
Uruguay was the last team to qualify for the World Cup, finishing fifth in South America and then overcoming Costa Rica in the CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff. They then emerged as 2-0-1 winners of a first-round group that included France (embarrassing disaster), South Africa (plucky but in over its head) and Mexico (always advances, always goes out in the second round). The brilliant forward partnership of Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez was key, while a hard-working midfield led by Diego Pérez gave the strikers room to operate.
A kind draw in the round of 16 presented South Korea as the first opponent, and Suárez dispatched them with a goal in each half. The ensuing quarterfinal against Ghana will be talked about for years. Suárez again was key, this time because of his overtime gamesmanship. Nevertheless, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed his penalty and La Celeste prevailed in the shootout.
Heavily favored, the Dutch will have to avoid repeating past mental mistakes and looking toward the final before the semi has been won. Coach Bert van Marwijk, who previously led Borussia Dortmund and Feyenoord, is unassuming and has been receiving a lot of credit for getting this edition of the Oranje to stay focused on the task at hand, where previous teams unraveled because of overconfidence or infighting.
Past World Cup campaigns have been derailed by everything from overconfidence, players arguing over status and responsibilities, locker room splits and allegations of racial tension and disagreements over coaching and tactics.
“I’ve said many times, I can’t change a culture. But I’ve worked very hard to make this group of players realize if you want to win something in a tournament, you must always focus on the next game,” he said.
“We have witnessed it before in the past. Think about two years ago in Austria and Switzerland. We beat Italy and France and everybody already thought we would become European champions. But we didn’t even survive the quarterfinals because we thought that we were already there. That’s what I’ve tried to make clear, that this has to be different.”
Holland must deal with the yellow-card suspensions of key defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong and right back Gregory van der Wiel. Van Marwijk has some veteran options to take care of the latter, and neither loss will put a dent in the Oranje’s significant advantage in talent.
And as for the famous Dutch tendency to care more about the quality of play than winning the game, captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst said that this team has left that unfortunate tradition behind as well. “You want to bring beautiful football, but the most important now is to win … If we win with good football, it is beautiful. But winning with something less will please us, too.”
La Celeste are extremely comfortable with winning with something less. And on Tuesday, that’ll be their only chance.
“The history of the World Cup is full of results that nobody could have expected, and they continue to happen,” coach Óscar Tabárez said. “Why shouldn’t we be able to win on Tuesday? I know we have to play a perfect game, and we’re going to approach it with all of our effort.”
Uruguay may be spent. Suárez is, of course, suspended for the semifinal. He has three of Uruguay’s seven goals. Left back Jorge Fucile, who plays with Portuguese power Porto, received his second yellow card of the tournament against Ghana and is out as well. Captain and central defender Diego Lugano injured his knee in the first half against Ghana and said he was able to “run in a straight line with out pain” in practice, but he remains in doubt.
Uruguay’s other first-choice center back, Diego Godín, missed the Ghana game with a thigh injury and is in a race against time to be fit, while midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who usually comes on as a substitute, is definitely out with a broken foot.
Holland isn’t booking its flight to Johannesburg just yet, however. This Uruguay team has found ways to win.
“Uruguay are a team of fighters. They battle and survive,” Van Marwijk said. “That is why they have reached the semifinals. We must certainly not underestimate them, otherwise things will go wrong for us.”
Uruguay’s best hope might be an early goal. They’ll rely on Forlán to get it. If Holland has a weakness, it’s among the back four.
“They are superior to us in terms of collective ball possession. But assuming we are weaker, if you look at footballing history you can find ways to face those teams. We will go out there with enormous faith and do everything it takes as we have in our prior matches,” Tabárez said.
Netherlands 2, Uruguay 0.