The World Cup semifinals start today, as Uruguay face the Netherlands in a battle of the tournament’s only undefeated teams still alive.
Uruguay had their share of good luck to get past Ghana and they come in to this game without suspended star forward Luis Suarez.
That means the main threat the Dutch have to worry about is Diego Forlan, who will be marked by his former Atletico Madrid teammate John Heitinga.
The Netherlands have won every game despite not playing their best.
Coach Bert van Marwijk has kept his players’ egos and tempers in check, avoiding the infighting of previous Dutch sides. However, the coach is getting no points for style, as critics remain unimpressed with his team’s lack of flair.
Even the great Johan Cruyff has complained that this Dutch side doesn’t play entertaining soccer like those of the past.
I have a feeling that the criticisms will dry up quickly if the Netherlands go all the way.
‘Forlorn’ No More
One team’s flop can be another team’s star, and a prime example is Uruguay’s Forlan. He had a dismal time at Manchester United when he joined the club in 2002, going 27 games before he finally scored his first goal. The British press dubbed him “Diego Forlorn” and he was written off as just another over-hyped signing.
After leaving England for Spain, Forlan proved his critics wrong, finishing as top scorer in all of Europe with Villarreal, then doing the same last year with Atletico. Now he’s demonstrating his talents on the world stage.
Real Zeal appeal
While the Netherlands and Uruguay are still hoping to leave this World Cup undefeated, one team has already accomplished that — New Zealand.
The Kiwis went into the tournament as rank outsiders, but headed home with their heads held high after drawing Italy, Paraguay, and Slovakia.
Along the way they won over plenty of fans through their pluck and determination.
New Zealand had an easy qualification
route, finishing ahead of New Caledonia and Fiji in the Oceania region, before winning a two-match playoff with Asia’s fifth-place team, Bahrain.
To their credit, the Kiwis are asking FIFA to change the format for 2014, so that the Oceania champion gets thrown into the final round of Asian qualifying, which currently consists of 10 teams.
That would make it harder for New Zealand to qualify, but would also give them more games against good opposition. Hopefully they’ll be back in four years time, to continue their unbeaten run.
Bob Lenarduzzi is President of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. For information on Whitecaps FC summer camps visit www.whitecapsfc.com/camps or call 778-330-1354.