Meet the new boss (same as the old)
Three of 4 semifinalists are European; underdog Uruguay is the only party crasher
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.’’
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas celebrates at the end of a 1-0 World Cup quarterfinal win over Paraguay on Saturday.