Meet the new boss (same as the old)

Three of 4 semi­fi­nal­ists are Euro­pean; un­der­dog Uruguay is the only party crasher

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Nancy Ar­mour

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — A week ago, Europe was done, its biggest stars flops, its supremacy in in­ter­na­tional soc­cer hi­jacked by South Amer­ica. So much for that. Europe is back in its tra­di­tional power spot at the World Cup, pro­duc­ing three of the four semi­fi­nal­ists and en­sur­ing its streak of hav­ing at least one team in the fi­nal since 1934 will con­tinue. (Yes, Brazil and Uruguay were the only two teams that could have won in 1950, but there was no “of­fi­cial” fi­nal.)

Con­tin­ued from C

All that moan­ing and groan­ing that could be heard above the din of the vu­vuze­las? Only six of Europe’s 13 teams mak­ing it out of the group stage, com­pared with all five from South Amer­ica and two from Asia? The tan­ta­liz­ing prospect of an all-South Amer­i­can fi­nal?

For­get all that. The only out­sider re­main­ing is un­der­dog Uruguay, and if it loses to the Nether­lands to­day, Europe will be guar­an­teed its first ti­tle in a World Cup held out­side the con­ti­nent. Ger­many plays Spain in the other semi­fi­nal Wed­nes­day.

“It was too early to dis­miss Europe,’’ Span­ish mid­fielder Xavi said. “Our top-ranked teams re­mained alive while Brazil and Ar­gentina were los­ing. Who­ever proves best from Europe prob­a­bly will win this tour­na­ment.’’

“The way our semi­fi­nal plays out,’’ Ger­man de­fender Philipp Lahm said, “it is a re­match of the 2008 Euro Cham­pi­onship fi­nal. Only this time, we want to re­verse the out­come.’’

Spain beat Ger­many 1-0 in that one.

The Nether­lands have a lock on that dreaded “best team never to win the World Cup” ti­tle. And the Dutch haven’t al­ways looked like the Clock­work Oranje here.

But they are the only team with a per­fect record in South Africa — no small thing — and their un­beaten streak is up to 24. Mid­fielder Wes­ley Sch­nei­jder has been out­stand­ing.

“We are round­ing into form,” Nether­lands coach Bert van Mar­wijk said. “Our fit­ness level has im­proved as the tour­na­ment has pro­gressed.’’

Europe had its worst show­ing in the group stage since the World Cup was ex­panded to 32 teams. But it wouldn’t have looked so bad if not for the mis­ad­ven­tures of de­fend- Satur­day ABC Semi­fi­nal losers, Sun­day ABC Semi­fi­nal win­ners,

:30 p.m. The world rank for the last four teams and their odds to win com­ing into the tour­na­ment: Team Rnk Odds Spain 2 5.5-toNether­lands 4 0-toGer­many 6 2-toUruguay 6 00-to-

:30 p.m. ing World Cup champ Italy and 2006 run­ner-up France.

Ger­many, Nether­lands and Spain all won their groups, and the Ger­mans look like the dom­i­nant team here.

The three-time cham­pi­ons are in the semi­fi­nals for a third straight Cup. They’ve scored four goals in three of their five games; there are teams that left this tour­na­ment with­out four goals to­tal. Lots of ’em, in fact.

Ger­man striker Miroslav Klose is lurk­ing right be­hind Ron­aldo for most goals in World Cup his­tory. He has 14 to­tal, ty­ing him with Ger­man great Gerd Mueller and putting him one be­hind Ron­aldo. And Klose isn’t even the top scorer at this tour­na­ment. That honor — for now, any­way — be­longs to Spain’s David Villa, who has five.

Uruguay, a small nation of 3.4 mil­lion tucked be­tween giants Brazil and Ar­gentina, will try to break up the Euro­pean party. The two-time cham­pi­ons haven’t been in the semi­fi­nals since 1970. La Ce­leste were the last team to get into the tour­na­ment, need­ing to beat Costa Rica in a play­off.

“They are fight­ers, sur­vivors,” van Mar­wijk said. “They don’t get this far by ac­ci­dent.’’

Ivan Sekretarev AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Spain goal­keeper Iker Casil­las cel­e­brates at the end of a 1-0 World Cup quar­ter­fi­nal win over Paraguay on Satur­day.

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