World Cup semi-final review: Seven will become eight

So now we know that the 2010 World Cup final will be contested by Holland and Spain. As neither have previously won a World Cup, this means we will have a new winner – the eighth in all – of the Jules Rimet trophy, joining the elite group of Uruguay, Italy, Germany/West Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France.

Here is how the two teams reached the final.

Uruguay 2 Holland 3

Two second-half goals from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben – the first carrying more than a whiff of controversy – helped put Holland into their first World Cup final for 32 years at the expense of a battling Uruguay on Tuesday night.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Hopefully the game will ultimately be best remembered for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s opening goal. The Dutch captain – who is set to retire from football after this World Cup – put a memorable stamp on the tournament by advancing down the left flank and hammering an unstoppable 35-yard shot into the top corner of Fernando Muslera‘s net for what will surely be the goal of the tournament.

The goal should have been the signal for the opening of the floodgates. However, this remains a Holland side which, despite having won each of their 14 games so far in both the qualifying and finals tournaments, is the antithesis of past Dutch teams. Where sides containing the likes of Cruyff, van Basten, Gullit and Bergkamp would have played beautifully and somehow found a way to lose, Bert van Marwijk‘s squad have a knack of winning ugly. So, instead of being treated to ‘total football’, we were subjected to the Holland we have seen throughout this tournament: fitfully brilliant, more often pragmatic, sometimes just plain poor.

And so a Uruguay team missing the ability of the suspended Luis Suaraz to get into threatening positions inside the box gradually clawed their way back into the match. Diego Forlán‘s shot from the edge of the area swerved in flight but went straight at goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but he somehow contrived to flap at empty air as the ball went straight over him, allowing Uruguay to go in level after 45 minutes.

After half-time, the match sat precariously in the balance before Sneijder’s 70th-minute effort whizzed just past Robin van Persie and into the net. Van Persie was clearly in an active position, and replays suggested he was marginally offside. It was a tight call for which the officials should not be blamed, but it was also an incorrect decision. Nevertheless, the goal was allowed to stand. It was Sneijder’s fifth of the tournament, putting him level with David Villa as the tournament’s top goalscorer.

Still reeling from going behind, three minutes later Dirk Kuyt crossed for Robben to head home, and at 3-1 the game was as good as over. Uruguay managed an injury-time goal from Maxi Pereira, but despite some heart-stopping moments before the final whistle it was too little too late.

Uruguay can return home with their heads held high, but it will be the Oranje, for all the disappointment of their frequently disjointed play, who head to Johannesburg for Sunday’s final.

Key numbers

5Wesley Sneijder has now scored five goals from seven shots in open play during this tournament.

14 – Including the qualifying tournament, Holland now have 14 consecutive wins in this World Cup campaign, a new record.

2,200 – Holland’s final goal, scored by Arjen Robben, was the 2,200th goal in World Cup finals history.

1974 – The year of Uruguay‘s only previous World Cup meeting with Holland. Diego Forlán‘s father, Pablo, played in that game (won by Holland).

14 – Uruguay are now without a win in their last 14 World Cup games against European opposition (six draws, eight defeats).

1 – This was the first World Cup semi-final since 1986 to be won by more than a one-goal margin in normal time (Italy beat Germany 2-0 in 2006, but this was after extra time.)

2 – Holland remain one of only two unbeaten teams at the 2010 World Cup. The other is New Zealand.

22 – There have been 22 goals at Cape Town’s Green Point stadium, the most among this tournament’s ten stadia. Johannesburg’s Soccer City, which stages Sunday’s final, could still overtake Green Point – 20 goals have been scored here so far.

Spain 1 Germany 0

Although this game was far from being a classic, it was a shame one team had to lose an absorbing semi-final which see-sawed first one way and then the other.

The game unfolded much as expected during the first half, with Spain – starting without the out-of-form Fernando Torres – playing their intricate passing game and Germany largely content to defend and exploit opportunities on the counter-attack. Both sides occasionally threatened, but with little sustained menace. It wasn’t a great half of football, with a Torres-less Spain lacking a central focus up front, and Germany struggling to get Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski involved.

Carles Puyol

The second half started more brightly, with Spain enjoying an early period of dominance before the game settled into a pattern where first one team would dominate for a few minutes, then the other. But if the pattern of the game had become fairly predictable, the scorer of the all-important goal on 73 minutes was not. Xavi swept in a corner from the left, and a charging Carles Puyol leapt high to power a thunderous header past the helpless Manuel Neuer from 12 yards. A team which prides itself on playing the most beautiful modern football had produced a proper old-school goal.

Germany pressed forward and kept trying all the way to the end, leaving gaping holes at the back as they threw caution to the wind. Remarkably, Spain failed to capitalise on several chances to make the game safe, not least when Pedro squandered a two-on-one situation by selfishly keeping the ball to himself instead of squaring it to unmarked substitute Torres.

But no matter. 1-0 was ultimately enough, and Vicente del Bosque‘s side were deserving winners, having been on top for long spells during the game and created the bulk of the goal-scoring chances. They will now have the opportunity to add the World Cup to their 2008 European Championship win in Sunday’s final at Soccer City.

Key numbers

7 – Number of Barcelona players in Spain‘s starting line-up (Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Pedro and David Villa).

26:52 – Time of the game’s first foul, when Sergio Ramos brought down Lukas Podolski.

4 – For the fourth time in a row, a World Cup semi-final involving Germany was scoreless at half-time. They went on to win in 1990 and 2002, but lost in 2006 and last night.

1 – In his 13th World Cup appearance, Spain’s Carles Puyol scored with his first-ever attempt in target.

1 – This was Germany’s first defeat in four World Cup meetings with Spain (previously two wins, one draw).

22 – Every member of both starting elevens plays for a club in their country’s domestic league.

0 – Puyol’s goal ensured that, after 19 tournaments, no World Cup semi-final has ever finished 0-0.

(Statistics courtesy of FIFA statistics, @optajoe and @StatManJohn.)


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

9 Responses to World Cup semi-final review: Seven will become eight

  1. chrisrossss says:

    Fantastic game, so what are your predictions for the final? Netherlands or Spain?

  2. Tim says:

    In my pre-World Cup predictions, I picked Holland to win (although I had them facing Argentina in a repeat of the 1978 final), so I’m sticking with them.

  3. Let’s hope you’re right, Tim. They’ve never met in a World Cup or European Cup, but Holland has history on its side, with a 7-0 win in 1648. That was an encounter which went well into extra time and is now known as the 80 Years War. Seven Dutch provinces became independent of Spanish rule. Just thought you’d like to know.

  4. Tim says:

    To be honest, it would be pretty much the only prediction I’ve got right in the World Cup! (Fool that I am, I had England reaching the semis. D’oh!)

    Maybe we should leave prognostications to that psychic octopus, eh? 😉

  5. mrshev says:

    I thought the Spain vs Germany game was a tad dull. The German team looked a wee bit tired and the Spanish style of play is definitely leaving them fresher for the final.

    I cannot call who will win it. Holland seem a little bitty and appear to want to play the perfect pass all the time. Van Bronckhorsts goal was a total screamer and worthy of goal of the tournament – but goals like that come along every year or so. They need to play quicker ball – they have the talent – and then they should do well.

    Spain have similar issues and loose ideas when they reach the final third. Villa, if pushed wide, becomes a toothless threat and Torres is utterly listless at the moment…but, the rest of the team is playing excellent football but they need to learn how to break, because they’re like watching subutteo at the moment. Nice short passing game, but no goal threat.

    • Tim says:

      Agree about your assessment of the game. I’m not sure why so many commentators are raving about it so much today. It was always intriguing because you knew we were watching two good attacking sides, but I thought the first half was pretty but dull and the second half decent.

      Torres looks unfit and with zero confidence right now. Pedro’s selfishness was unforgivable – not only did he waste a chance to put the game to bed, but the simple tap-in would have done wonders for Torres’ confidence. I still wish del Bosque would drop one of Busquets and Alonso and play play Fabregas more, but that’s the Arsenal fan in me for you! Similarly, if van Persie can just find a bit of form, Holland will really test the Spanish defence.

      Definitely too close to call. What does Paul the Octopus say?

      • mrshev says:

        I would drop Iniesta and play Fabregas as I think Iniesta gave the ball away too much. Fabregas would add much more creativity and he doesn’t give the ball away cheaply but I would keep Alonso as I thought he had a great game.

        (Again, I am also a bit biased as I am a Arse fan as well. 7 years in he North Bank, then 3 in the West Stand (so I could get a better view!) – alas, I had to relinquish my season ticket when I went to uni…)

  6. Marcus says:

    The Netherlands is not a first-time finalist as you say in the beginning of your article. They have been to the finals twice, in 1974 loosing to Germany and in 1978 loosing to Argentina. Both games were played at the host countries of the winners. Spain on the other hand is a first time finalist. Neither one has ever been a world cup champion and you are correct to say there will be an eight team joing this group.

    • Tim says:

      Quite right. I did know that – the 1978 World Cup final was the first one I watched as a child – but allowed that error to creep in, where obviously I should have said “non-winner”. Thanks for pointing it out – now corrected.

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