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.)

The week in numbers: w/e 4/7/10

Roger Federer

2002 – The last year in which the Wimbledon men’s singles final did not feature Roger Federer.

148 – In mph, the fastest serve recorded in the men’s tournament, by American Taylor Dent. Venus Williams had the fastest serve in the women’s competition, at 128 mph.

75% – Exactly three-quarters (93) of the 124 completed matches in the ladies’ singles were won in straight sets.

129Serena Williams required a total of 129 games to win the ladies’ singles tournament, nine fewer than were played in the fifth set of the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut alone.

516 – Williams spent a total of 516 minutes on court in her seven singles matches, which was just 25 minutes longer of the final set of Isner v Mahut, and 2 hours and 29 minutes less than that match in total.

100.1 – According to Sky TV’s speed gun, the speed of the fastest ball (in mph) bowled by Australia‘s Shaun Tait in Saturday’s one-day international against England.(Hawk-Eye measured the same ball at 97 mph, though.)

Fabian Cancellara

53.4 – In kph, the average speed of Fabian Cancellara, winner of the 8.9 km prologue time trial at the Tour de France on Saturday.

4 – It is the fourth time the time trial specialist Cancellara has won the opening stage of the Tour, and his third win in a row when the initial stage has been a short time trial (2007, 2009, 2010).

133 – There have been 133 goals in 60 games so far in the football World Cup, an average of 2.22 per game. If there are eight or fewer goals in the last four games of the tournament, it will be the lowest scoring World Cup in history in terms of average goals per game – currently the 1990 edition in Italy, which saw 142 goals at an average of 2.21 per game.

30.8% – Just 520 of 1689 shots so far in the World Cup have been on target, underlining the difficulties faced by attacking sides this summer.

(Some statistics courtesy of @optajim and Castrol Live Tracker.)

World Cup quarter-finals 3 & 4: Two missed penalties and a German demolition job

Argentina 0 Germany 4

Miroslav Klose now has 14 World Cup goals, one short of Ronaldo's all-time record

We can now finally lay to rest the question of whether Germany are actually any good. They are, most emphatically.

In dismantling an Argentina side who many had tipped to reach the final, Joachim Löw‘s team played with style, desire and confidence, inflicting Argentina’s heaviest World Cup defeat since 1958.

Thomas Müller set the ball rolling, heading in Bastain Schweinsteiger‘s free kick after just 160 seconds, the fastest goal of the tournament. They had to wait until the final quarter of the game to score again as Argentina enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball while creating little in the way of genuine threat. But on 67 minutes Miroslav Klose scored his 13th career World Cup goal, tapping in strike partner Lukas Podolski‘s precise ball across the six-yard box, effectively ending the match as a contest. Seven minutes later, Schweinsteiger skipped past a succession of tackles on the left before pulling the ball back for Arne Friedrich to score his first international goal. And finally, the always influential Schweinsteiger sent Mesut Özil clear to cross for Klose to apply icing to cake with a fine volley.

Diego Maradona‘s team simply ran out of ideas, and steam. They dominated possession and asked questions of the German defence time and again, but they never really unlocked the door. And with Lionel Messi effectively shackled they lacked the creative spark to force it open. By the end they were a sorry side who looked anything but potential champions. Germany, on the other hand, are looking increasingly like a side who genuinely believe the greatest prize is within their grasp. The towels are being laid down at Soccer City as we speak.

Key numbers:

1 – Including this game, Argentina have won just one out of their six World Cup matches against Germany.

4Miroslav Klose has now scored four goals at the 2010 World Cup, one more than he did in the Bundesliga in the whole of last season.

4Thomas Müller has had four shots on target at this tournament – and has scored with all four of them.

2:40 – At two minutes and 40 seconds, Müller scored the fastest goal of the tournament so far.

20 – Germany have never gone more than 20 years without winning a World Cup. It is exactly 20 years since they last won it …

Paraguay 0 Spain 1

David Villa now has five goals and leads the Golden Boot competition

As a certain Scottish football manager once said: “Football, bloody hell!” Much of this quarter-final between Paraguay and Spain was instantly forgettable – but a four-minute cameo will be remembered forever.

Paraguay set out their stall to defend, in keeping with a formula which had conceded just one goal in four games to this point. Spain came to do what Spain do, namely move the ball around with pace, patience and precision. For 57 minutes, irresistible force met immovable object, with stalemate the inevitable result. This was not entertaining fare.

And then it all changed. Gerard Piqué cynically grabbed Oscar Cardozo as the Paraguay forward spun away from him at a corner. Cardozo himself got up to take the penalty, and he will wish he hadn’t bothered as his tame effort was far too close to Iker Casillas, who easily held on to the shot.

Almost immediately, Spain were up at the other end and David Villa went down under a challenge by Antolin Alcaraz. The penalty award looked a bit soft, but equally Alcaraz was arguably fortunate to avoid a straight red card for the clear denial of a goalscoring opportunity. Xabi Alonso swept home the spot kick, only for Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres to order it re-taken for (marginal) encroachment by a number of Spain players. This time Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar parried Alonso’s penalty. Cesc Fabregas followed up and was clearly upended by Villar, but the referee missed the infringement.

It was almost incidental when, with eight minutes remaining, Pedro‘s shot rebounded off the woodwork and David Villa followed up with a curling effort that cannoned off one post and then the other before rolling almost apologetically over the line for the goal which put Spain into the World Cup semi-final for the first time in their history. In the context of those mad four minutes, it was a positively mundane event.

So, it will now be Spain versus Germany – two of the tournament’s most attractive sides – on Wednesday evening for a place in what could be an all-European final. So much for the theory that the old continent is on the wane in a tournament which has seen an all-time low number of European teams in both the last 16 (six) and quarter-finals (three).

Key numbers:

6Paraguay became the first World Cup team to make six or more changes to their starting line-up from one knockout game to the next (excluding the 3rd/4th place playoff).

1 – This was Spain‘s first ever World Cup quarter-final win.

11 – 11 of Spain’s 15 shots against Paraguay (and all 4 on target) came in the 34 minutes after Cesc Fabregas came on as a substitute.

2 – This was only the second time in the World Cup’s history that two penalties (excluding shootouts) have been missed in the same match. The previous occasion was in the inaugural 1930 tournament, during Argentina’s 6-3 win over Mexico.

2:03 – There was a gap of just two minutes and three seconds between the two penalties being awarded in this match.

5David Villa is now the tournament’s highest goalscorer, having scored five in the last four games.

4 – This is the first World Cup in which Spain have won four games.

(Statistics courtesy of @optajoao, @optajose, @optajoe, @castrolfootball and FIFA statistics.)

World Cup quarter-finals 1 & 2: Two reds, one hand, no more African teams

Friday’s two World Cup quarter-finals were nothing if not eventful, providing us with a montage of memorable moments, from great goals to senseless red cards, and producing scenes of both elation and despair – not to mention possibly the most dramatic end to a match the World Cup has ever seen. But ultimately the tantalising – or depressing, depending on your point of view – prospect of two all-South American semi-finals will now not come to pass, and we sadly said goodbye to Africa’s final representative in the tournament.

Holland 2 Brazil 1

Wesley Sneijder

This was, truly, a game of two halves. The first 45 minutes was dominated by Brazil. Ten minutes in, Robinho ran unattended through Holland‘s hastily reorganised back line – Joris Mathijsen having been injured in the warm-up – and swept home Felipe Melo‘s through-ball. Had Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg not been in fine form, Brazil would have had one foot firmly in the semi-final by halftime. First he tipped over a curling shot from Kaka, then he turned away a thunderous shot from the full back Maicon.

But the game turned early in the second half when a Wesley Sneijder cross caused panic in the heart of the Brazilian defence. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar tried to punch the ball away but collided with Melo, with the ball bouncing off the latter into the unguarded goal. With the momentum shifting in Holland’s favour, Dirk Kuyt then flicked on a corner for Sneijder to head in what would turn out to be the winner midway though the second half.

Under pressure for the first time in the tournament, Dunga‘s team lost their composure. Melo experienced a rush of blood to the head, and his deliberate stamp on Arjen Robben received the red card it deserved. Although Brazil surged forward desperately in the last 15 minutes in search of the equaliser, none was forthcoming, and as gaping holes started to open up in Brazil’s back line Holland missed a couple of great chances to put the result beyond doubt.

Nonetheless, it is the Dutch who qualified for Tuesday’s first semi-final. On every previous occasion Holland and Brazil have met in the knockout stages, the winner has always gone on to the final. You have been warned.

Key numbers:

42 – Defeat against Holland brought to an end Brazil’s streak of 42 unbeaten World Cup games (excluding penalty shootouts) outside of Europe. Their previous defeat in a non-European World Cup was in July 1950 against Uruguay.

2 – Holland join an elite band of France, Hungary and Italy as the only sides to have beaten Brazil twice at the World Cup.

1 – Felipe Melo is the first player in World Cup history to score an own goal and be sent off in the same game.

97 – Melo’s own goal was the first ever conceded by Brazil at the World Cup – in their 97th game.

Uruguay 1 Ghana 1 (aet, 90 mins 1-1) – Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties

Luis Suarez

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez has caught the eye in two respects during this tournament. On the plus side, he has contributed three fine goals which were instrumental in propelling his country into this quarter-final. In the minus column, however, he has been perhaps the single worse perpetrator of what FIFA likes to euphemistically call ‘simulation’. In other words, he is a diving cheat. So it was perhaps inevitable that Suarez would have a hand – literally – in the outcome of this match.

An entertaining game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes. Diego Forlan‘s spectacular free kick from the left corner of the penalty area early in the second half cancelled out Sulley Muntari‘s swerving, dipping drive from the nearly 40 yards out in first half stoppage time. On both occasions, the less than true flight of the derided Jabulani ball made both goalkeepers look rather silly through no fault of their own.

Unusually and refreshingly, both sides played with ambition in extra time, but the game was heading for the dreaded penalty shootout when Suarez first cleared Dominic Adiyiah‘s goalbound effort off the line with his knee, then batted away Adiyiah’s follow-up attempt with his hand. It was an instinctive and desperate reaction, but the punishment was swift and correct: a red card for Suarez, and a penalty for Ghana. Asamoah Gyan, scorer of two penalties already in the tournament, fired his spot-kick off the top of the bar with the final act of extra time.

After five well-taken penalties in the shootout – Gyan himself bravely stepped up to take Ghana’s first and blasted it into the top corner – John Mensah, Maxi Pereira and Adiyiah failed in succession to convert their efforts. This left Uruguay substitute Sebastian Abreu to cheekily chip the winning penalty into the space vacated by the diving Ghana keeper, Richard Kingson, triggering scenes of celebration in Montevideo.

Suarez will miss the semi-final, but will feel justified he did the right thing given the eventual outcome. Ghana and Gyan will rue the fact that a red card and a penalty were ultimately not sufficient punishment for the deliberate prevention of a match-winning goal.

Africa has lost its last representative in this first African World Cup, and the continent’s record of never having had a semi-finalist will continue for at least four more years. Meanwhile Uruguay travel to Cape Town for a date with the Oranje next Tuesday.

Key numbers:

40 – The teams combined for a total of 49 shots (26 Ghana, 14 Uruguay).

3 – Asamoah Gyan has struck the woodwork three times, more than any other player at this World Cup.

3 – Gyan’s penalty miss at the end of extra-time was the third unconverted penalty of the tournament (excluding shootouts) – and arguably the most costly.

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

World Cup second round: in numbers

Uruguay v South Korea

5South Korea are yet to beat a South American side at the World Cup in five attempts.

4Uruguay have had less than 45% of ball possession in all four of their games so far in this World Cup, but have nonetheless won three and drawn the other.

22Luis Suarez has been on the winning side in the last 22 games for club and country in which he has scored.

390 – Total minutes Uruguay had gone without conceding a World Cup goal until Lee Chung-Yong scored in Port Elizabeth. Before that, the last goal they had conceded was scored by Senegal‘s Papa Bouba Diop in 2002.

USA v Ghana

0 – Neither the USA nor Ghana had ever played extra time in a World Cup game before this match.

433Kevin Prince Boateng‘s fifth-minute goal brought to an end Ghana’s run of 433 minutes without a goal from open play at the World Cup. Their previous four goals in four games before that had come via the penalty spot.

3 – Ghana became only the third African side ever to reach the quarter-finals after Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002).

4Asamoah Gyan is only the second African player to score four goals at the World Cup after Cameroon’s Roger Milla (five).

206 – Despite winning Group C, the USA only led in games for a total of 206 seconds at this World Cup.

5Landon Donovan is now the all-time leading goalscorer for the USA at the World Cup, with five.

3 – Donovan had three shots on target at this World Cup – and scored from all three.

England v Germany

12Miroslav Klose scored his 12th World Cup goal, equalling Pelé.

3Germany ensured that David James‘s streak of never having kept three consecutive clean sheets for England continued.

2Matthew Upson’s two England goals have both come against Germany.

9Wayne Rooney has now failed to score in any of his last nine England games.

3 – England scored just three goals in South Africa, their lowest-scoring World Cup since 1950 (two).

43 – Yet again, on his 43rd cap, Jermain Defoe maintained the unenviable record of never having completed a full 90 minutes for England.

1966 – The last World Cup in which Germany failed to progress further in the competition than England.

1966 – The last time England won a game in which their opponent scored first was the 1966 World Cup final – against West Germany.

1990 – England have not come from behind to win a World Cup game since the 1990 quarter-final against Cameroon.

Argentina v Mexico

1Carlos Tevez scored Argentina‘s first goal from outside the box at the World Cup since Maxi Rodriguez‘s strike in 2006. That goal also came against Mexico.

24 – Mexico have lost a total of 24 World Cup games, more than any other country.

0 – Argentina have yet to draw a game under Diego Maradona.

8 – This game broke a run of eight World Cup knockout games in which Argentina had not won in the regulation 90 minutes (previously round-of-16 against Brazil, 1990).

10 – Argentina are currently on a run of 10 World Cup games without defeat, excluding penalty shootouts (seven wins, three draws).

Holland v Slovakia

4Holland have won four games in a row at the World Cup, equalling their best ever streak (in 1974).

23 – Holland are now unbeaten in 23 games, the longest run in their history.

4 – With four goals, Slovakia‘s Robert Vittek is tied for the lead in the Golden Boot competition.

Brazil v Chile

4.00 – Brazil’s 3-0 win means they have scored 28 goals in their last seven games against Chile in all competitions, an average of exactly four per game.

8Robinho has scored eight goals in six games against Chile.

Paraguay v Japan

0 – Before this game, neither Paraguay nor Japan had ever reached the quarter-finals.

0 – No Asian team has ever beaten a South American team at the World Cup.

750Roque Santa Cruz has now gone 750 minutes without scoring at the World Cup. His last goal was against South Africa in 2002.

7 – Paraguay are now unbeaten in their last seven World Cup games against non-European sides.

4 – Paraguay have failed to score on all four occasions they have reached the second round of the World Cup.

6 – Paraguay are the sixth successive team who have taken the first penalty in a World Cup shootout and gone on to win.

1 – This was the first time a World Cup game going to penalties had not involved at least one European team.

Spain v Portugal

51 – Tonight was Iker Casillas‘ 51st game as captain of his country, a Spanish record.

80% – Prior to tonight’s game, Portugal had kept 20 clean sheets in 25 games since the return of coach Carlos Queiroz.

8Xavi created eight goalscoring chances for Spain,  the joint-highest single game total in the tournament.

16 – It took 16 shots on target before Eduardo was finally beaten to concede Portugal’s first goal of the competition.

General statistics

7 – Seven of the eight group winners have qualified for the quarter-finals. The USA were the only ones to miss out.

3 – There are only three European teams in the last eight, the fewest ever.

2 – Number of teams who have won all four games so far during this tournament (Argentina, Holland).

2 – Number of knockout games (out of eight played so far) which have gone to extra time.

10 – Argentina are currently the top goalscorers in the competition, with 10 goals in four games.

75 – Argentina have recorded the most shots on target (75), one more than Brazil.

31 – Shots on target by England, more than any team other than Argentina (36).

67 – Of the eight quarter-finalists, Ghana have committed the most fouls, with 67.

113 – Total goals in the 48 matches comprising the group phase (an average of 2.35 per game). The tournament has picked up pace distinctly since the cagey opening round of games: a meagre 25 goals were scored in the first round, 42 in the second, and 46 in the final round.

13 – Lionel Messi has had 13 shots on target, more than any other player.

(Some stats courtesy of FIFA statisticsCastrol Live Tracker@optajoe@optajean,@StatManJohn and @castrolfootball.)

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