The thrilling, often-mystifying, heart-in-mouth suspenseful, vuvuzela-blaring World Cup tournament in South Africa is down to four teams in the chase for soccer supremacy.
And it’s not the four countries people were expecting to be there.
Top-rated Brazil is gone, and so is perennial contender, Argentina. Both were shock losers on the weekend in quarterfinal action. Brazil was sent home by the hard-working, methodically efficient Dutch team; and the mercurial and emotional stars on Argentina were disgraced by a 4-0 loss to Germany.
On the other side, Uruguay broke the hearts of African fans, when they defeated Ghana on penalty kicks to advance, and European champions, Spain got a late goal to eliminate pesky Paraguay.
So now it’s down to a pair of games this week….and then the big final on Sunday to decide a champion that will rule for the next four years.
Who do you like?
The first semi-final sees The Netherlands facing Uruguay, with the Dutch being favored to win. Led by European superstars, Wesley Sneijder, and Arjen Robben, the orange-clad Dutchmen are generally regarded as "the best team never to have won the World Cup." (They were finalists in 1974 and 1978, but have never won the coveted statue.)
Many think this will be their year.
The biggest debate among soccer fans concerns the other semi-final, set for Wednesday. Spain appears to be rounding into form, and getting better with each game. David Villa leads the tournament in goals scored, and is a threat every time he touches the ball.
Xavi Hernandez is generally regarded as the world’s best midfielder, and goalkeeper Iker Cassilas is capable of saving a game single-handedly. But, the Spaniards face a young, skilled and well-drilled German team that not only punted Argentina, but also beat England en route to the semis.
The Germans will be hampered slightly as one of their brightest young players, 20-year old, Thomas Mueller, who has scored four goals in the tournament, will have to sit out the semi-final game by virtue of a red-card he was assessed in the win over Argentina.
Most feel the Spain-Germany duel is a toss-up, but one will obviously get through to the final, and with The Netherlands expected to have little trouble with Uruguay, an all-European final appears to be looming.
Will the nation that gave us BMW’s, Porsches and Audis emerge as tops in the world in soccer too?
Or could Sunday’s final turn out to be a "Dutch treat"? Or will it be "Ole" that is being shouted on Sunday for a Spanish victory?
Tuesday and Wednesday semi-final games on ESPN
championship final on Sunday July 11th on ESPN
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