FIRST SEMI FINAL | 6 JULY 2010
URUGUAY vs HOLLAND
KICKOFF TIME: 20:30 GMT
The only undefeated countries left in this year's World Cup go head-to-head for a place in their third World Cup final, though their records make for somewhat different reading. While Uruguay have won both their two previous appearances in the showpiece - in 1930 and 1950 - Netherlands have carried the two successive final defeats in 1974 and 1978 like an albatross around their neck ever since.
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The last time the Oranje competed in a World Cup semi-final was in 1998, when they were knocked out on penalties by Brazil following a 1-1 draw that included one of the greatest ever finals goals, a finish of real beauty from Dennis Bergkamp. This time around, Brazil were vanquished in the quarter-finals and South America's only remaining contenders in South Africa stand in the way of Netherlands' date with destiny.
Few would have predicted Uruguay's place in the last four before the tournament, but they have proved an opportunistic side, high on energy and talent. In a group containing a shambolic France, a South Africa team possessing less quality than any previous host nation and a flair-filled but defensively frail Mexico, Oscar Tabarez's side advanced with some comfort to the knockout stage. Against South Korea in the second round, Luis Suarez was the hero - netting twice in a 2-1 victory and with Ghana the opposition in the quarter-finals, the Ajax striker was the saviour once more.
Suarez has been demonised by some, canonised by others, for his last-minute handball - but the subsequent red card and his suspension for this semi-final would appear ample punishment for Uruguay. The South Americans must suffer the absence of the most prolific goalscorer in European football last season for their biggest match since defeat to Brazil's greatest ever side in the 1970 World Cup semi-finals.
Uruguay player to watch: Edinson Cavani. After struggling to a dour 0-0 draw with France in the opening game, the introduction of Cavani to the starting line-up has drastically improved Uruguay's fortunes. Despite not finding the net in South Africa, Cavani has proved the perfect foil to strike partner Luis Suarez and has allowed talismanic captain Diego Forlan to drop deep and influence proceedings, playing behind the front two. Cavani's movement off the ball, passing and work-rate have been impressive, but with Suarez suspended, the Palermo forward must now step out of his shadow and prove his goalscoring credentials.
Netherlands player to watch: Mark Van Bommel. One of the Oranje's unsung heroes in South Africa, Van Bommel and fellow midfield enforcer Nigel De Jong have frequently done the Dutch dirty work - breaking up play to allow the creative talents of Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to flourish. The Bayern Munich man is proficient at doing the simple things such as passing and intercepting effectively and played a crucial role in keeping Kaka quiet in the second-half against Brazil. This time around he will be charged with keeping Forlan at bay and if he manages to stifle Uruguay's dangerman, Netherlands have a great chance of progressing.
Key battle: Diego Godin/ Mauricio Victorino/ Álvaro Pereira v Arjen Robben. The suspension of Uruguay left-back Jorge Fucile has given Oscar Tabarez a huge defensive dilemma: who should be charged with shackling Netherlands star turn Arjen Robben? The Bayern Munich winger has been in sparkling form since returning from injury and the loss of Fucile, who was expected to provide a stern test after proving one of Uruguay's most impressive performers in South Africa, is a big blow. Alvaro Pereira, who has been deployed as a left winger during the tournament, has displayed his ability at left-back for club side Porto and will have the pace, if not the defensive nous, to track Robben. The other options are dependent on the fitness of captain Digeo Lugano and fellow centre-backs Godin and Victorino; if the former is fit than one of the latter two may switch to the left and take up a man-marking job on Van Marwijk's most explosive weapon.
Trivia: New Zealand could feasibly finish as the only unbeaten side at the 2010 World Cup, should the winner of this clash between Netherlands and Uruguay go on to lose the final.
Stats: Uruguay are without a win in their last 13 World Cup finals games against European opposition (six draws, seven losses) with their last success over a European side coming in 1970 when they beat the Soviet Union 1-0 at the quarter-final stage.
Odds: Uruguay (7.50), Netherlands (1.61) and the draw (3.50) are all on offer at Bet365. Wesley Sneijder to score first might be worth a flutter at 8.00.
Prediction: South America's sole representatives have yet to face a side of Netherlands' quality and it could well be their undoing. The loss of key players in Suarez and Fucile presents dilemmas in both tactics and personnel for Uruguay, and the Dutch are primed to fully exploit their deficiencies, after fighting back to beat Brazil. Robben and Sneijder hold the key; expect them to have what it takes to unlock the Uruguay defence and book a place in the final.