By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Tuesday: With Cape Town originally a Dutch settlement and with Uruguay having eliminated Ghana Africa's last standing team in controversial fashion on Friday, the Netherlands had a distinct advantage in crowd support at Green Point Stadium. And ironically, those Dutch supporters would end up celebrating a somewhat controversial 3-2 Oranje victory. In a 1-1 tie in the 70th minute, Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder scored his fifth goal of the tournament, benefiting the positioning of Robin Van Persie. Van Persie was standing just offside when the ball deflected off a Uruguayan defender and shot past him. The striker made a move around the ball but did not touch it, arguably throwing off Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera. There was no call and the goal stood, giving the Dutch a 2-1 lead. Arjen Robben stretched the lead with a score of his own three minutes later, but Maxi Perreira's goal in the 92nd minute for Uruguay made Sneijder's strike particularly stand out.
It's tough to say how the match would have unfolded had Sneijder's goal not been counted, but Uruguay was not outplayed and, until that strike, looked very poised. While England and Mexico suffered from poor refereeing in the Round of 16 but deserved to lose their respective bouts to Germany and Argentina regardless, Uruguay may have a legitimate complaint here. The difference from those mistakes, though, is that there was a lot more room for subjectivity in determining whether or not Van Persie had an effect on the play he never touched the ball. It could even be said that Van Persie only moved his foot to avoid involving himself. The argument for or against a call is really up to the beholder. Uruguayans, however, are sure to have beheld the goal as cheap and will forever wonder what might have been.
But for the Netherlands, it's not even worth thinking about. As far as they're concerned, Van Persie was in the right. And besides that, there's no time to worry when there's celebrating to be done. The team that took down Brazil was able to score three times against a side that had allowed only two goals in its five previous matches and is heading to its first World Cup final since 1978. Like Phil Mickelson prior to his 2004 Masters victory or the Vancouver Canucks, to this day without a Stanley Cup victory, the Dutch have for so long been competitive and have for so long been surrounded by passionate support, but are still without a World Cup victory. Now, the squad prepares to take on either Germany or Spain with the opportunity to finally celebrate as the world's top team. And they'll go into that tilt unbeaten in their last 25 matches and having won their last 10.
Uruguay is surely saddened, but the Celeste surpassed all expectations in 2010 and brought a soccer nation that once ruled the world back to life. Uruguay hadn't escaped the first round in twenty years and last got past the semifinals in 1970. And in the third-place match on Saturday, the team will have the opportunity to record the team's best finish since winning a second World Cup in 1950.
Also Tuesday: United States coach Bob Bradley is on the short list to be the next coach of the English Premier League's Fulham. Bradley is considered to have an outside shot at landing the position, but there's sure to be a lot of American support for the move. The potential benefits to U.S. soccer are mighty. Bradley could conceivably bring along a few Yanks, allowing the players to better themselves over the next few years on a much bigger stage and against much better competition than many are used to. Fulham is currently Clint Dempsey's club squad, though other rumors have AC Milan interested in paying a hefty transfer fee to bring the midfielder to Italy. Fulham is expected to lose a substantial chunk of its roster prior to next season, so upper management may be amenable to Bradley bringing two or three of his favorites on-board, but again, his hiring looks like a long shot.
Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson, who on Monday overturned a two-year ban he had previously placed on the country's national team, said that public outcry demonstrated on his Facebook page aided in the decision to do so. After reversing the ban, he published a status update on everybody's favorite social networking site reading, "I have listened to your voices." Had Johnson not rescinded the ban by Monday evening, the country would have faced further discipline from FIFA, as government involvement in soccer matters is prohibited. There were reports that the Nigerian media and public supported the move the disappointing Super Eagles are referred to by many in the country as the Super Chickens but apparently there was enough dissent towards the decision to encourage Johnson to take a step back. FIFA said on Tuesday that it will keep a close eye on the Nigerian soccer situation.
A day after it was reported that he'd play on Wednesday despite shoulder pain, Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas underwent tests on his right leg after aggravating a previous injury in practice on Monday. Though the Spanish Football Federation says that he could still play against Germany, the injury seemingly rules out the possibility that he'd play in place of struggling striker Fernando Torres. This suspicion was all but confirmed Monday when coach Vincente Del Bosque hinted heavily that Torres will draw the semifinal start. Look for the Liverpool star to pair with David Villa up top as he attempts to finally get himself going in the tournament. If he fails to do so, Fabregas could conceivably be an early substitute.
Argentina denied a reception with President Cristina Kirchner, saying they did not deserve such an honor. La Albiceleste's quarterfinal finish was disappointing but they may be taking it a bit too hard on themselves. The way Germany played on Saturday, nobody was going to beat them.
What to watch on Wednesday: The second semifinal features a bit more drawing power than Tuesday's bout, pitting Germany against Spain in a rematch of the 2008 Euro Championship final. Spain won that match 1-0 and Germany has seen significant turnover since. For that reason, if before the tournament you'd somehow sneaked a quick look into the future and seen that this would be a semifinal, you'd likely have thought this would be the end of the road for a young Die Mannschaft. But Germany's dominant efforts against high quality sides like England and Argentina have won the team a lot of support. It's a tough match-up for Spain, whose last two losses (in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinals to the United States and to Switzerland in group play of this tournament) have seen opponents strike suddenly when La Furia Roja puts its guard down. The efficient Germans and their brilliant counterattack will not allow Spanish error to go unpunished. Germany, however, hasn't seen a team quite like Spain yet. La Furia Roja has the flair of Argentina with organization and patience to match, and the star power of England with the cohesion necessary to give it purpose.
Question of the Day: To what extent do pedigree and history play a role in current World Cup success? Tomorrow's match may help us find an answer. Spain is in uncharted territory, having never advanced past the quarterfinals. Germany has hoisted the Cup three times. But today, Spain is the world's No. 2 team and the tournament favorite. Germany is ranked sixth, but coming into the tournament was considered young, inexperienced, and in the middle of a rebuilding effort. If La Furia loses and looks jittery, nervous, or unsure in the process, it just may be that the pressures of failures past had an effect.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Germany v Spain Durban Stadium, Durban 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: "What bothers me is that, after the World Cup, a new coach should be able to lean on a hard core. This hard core is not even a melon's pip . . . My task is to find a hard core within this team." - Laurent Blanc, France's new coach, at his first press conference Tuesday, expressing serious disappointment in the team's infamous World Cup performance.