European powers out to stop South American World Cup semifinal sweep

By Robert Millward, AP
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brazil, Argentina could lead SAmerican WCup sweep

JOHANNESBURG — A final four fiesta at the World Cup. Why not?

The first South American semifinal sweep could unfold if Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay all win their quarterfinals. European powers Spain, Germany and Netherlands and lone African survivor Ghana are out to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Four multiple World Cup winners and four who have never captured the title made it to the quarterfinals, with two matchups — Argentina-Germany and Netherlands-Brazil — worthy of the final itself.

In the other quarterfinals, two-time World Cup winner Uruguay faces Ghana and Paraguay takes on European champion Spain.

Argentina and Germany met in back-to-back finals in 1986 and ‘90, and the common denominator is Diego Maradona, who played in each final and now coaches the South American team.

“I feel like pulling on the jersey and playing myself, it is beautiful to be involved with this group of players. I feel proud to share these moments with them,” said Maradona, whose ability as a coach was put into doubt by some poor performances in qualifying.

“They said I had no idea about how to coach, but suddenly I am winning matches and I am still the same guy,” Maradona said.

Maradona was criticized for leaving behind Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, who starred in Inter Milan’s Champions League triumph. But four wins out of four have dispelled the doubts, and now he takes on Germany again.

Germany ousted Argentina in the quarterfinals at the last World Cup, winning a penalty kicks shootout after a 1-1 draw in Berlin.

A three-time champion, Germany got to the last eight by outplaying England 4-1 and also put four past Australia in a group game. A win over Argentina could set up a rematch with Spain, which beat the Germans in the Euro 2008 final.

Spain defeated neighbor Portugal 1-0 on Tuesday to set up a quarterfinal meeting with Paraguay at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park on Saturday.

The Spaniards overcame a shocking loss to Switzerland in group play to move into the last eight with David Villa scoring in three successive games, including the winner against the Portuguese. However, co-striker Fernando Torres’ poor run of form continued, and the Liverpool forward has yet to score in the tournament.

In its fourth World Cup in a row, Paraguay reached the quarterfinals for the first time by winning a shootout against Japan after a 0-0 draw in Pretoria. Paraguay has never beaten Spain.

Friday’s Brazil-Netherlands game in Port Elizabeth brings together the five-time champion Brazilians against a country that has never won soccer’s biggest prize, but was runner-up twice in the 1970s. Back in those days, the Dutch had a style of play that matched the Brazilians, but the team fell just short of making it count.

This Dutch have a similar look, attack-minded and with top quality stars such as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, who are capable of unlocking any defense. But this Brazilian back line has a far more solid look than some teams of the past who were weak at the back.

That Dutch trio not only must solve the mighty Lucio and Juan — who are strong in the air as well as on the ground — but Brazil also has defensive midfielders who will stop the flow of passes to the Dutch front men and allow their fullbacks, Maicon and Michel Bastos, to attack down the flanks.

“We know the Netherlands are a very difficult team to play against,” said Brazil coach Dunga. “Their football is actually very similar to South American football. They don’t try to stay defending and rely on long balls. They have technical quality and we will need to be ready for that. It’s a solid team.”

Their three World Cup meetings have ended with the winner going on to reach the final.

Dunga was captain of the Brazil team that beat the Dutch 3-2 in the 1994 quarterfinals in Dallas on the way to winning the title. The two sides also met in the 1974 World Cup when the Dutch won a second-round group game 2-0 on the way to losing the final to West Germany. Their last meeting was in the 1998 version when Brazil won on penalty kicks after a 1-1 semifinal draw, only to lose 3-0 to host France in the final.

The winner faces either Uruguay or Ghana in the semifinals in Cape Town on July 6.

Despite winning the World Cups in 1930 and ‘50, Uruguay has not made it this far since 1970. It’s having a revival under coach Oscar Tabarez.

He devised a three-man attacking system with Diego Forlan playing behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, while its defense did not yield a goal until the 68th minute of its fourth game, a 2-1 victory over South Korea.

Ghana was Africa’s only team to get through the first round at the last World Cup and is the only survivor here, this time making it to the last eight despite the absence of its best player, midfielder Michael Essien.

Now the young team guided by Serb coach Milovan Rajevac carries the hopes of the entire continent in a first meeting of the two nations on a soccer field. Striker Asamoah Gyan, who has three goals, is struggling to overcome an ankle injury.

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