By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Monday: With only four matches to go until a World Cup champion is decided, the semifinalists had the day off with the first two of the final four Uruguay and the Netherlands set to face off on Tuesday.
Dunga, who coached Brazil to a disappointing quarterfinal finish, has been fired. The coach's contract was set to expire shortly and he had hinted earlier in the week that he planned to walk away regardless, but the firing allows the Brazilian Football Federation to express its lack of approval. A former defensive midfielder, Dunga polarized Brazilians early in his tenure by emphasizing defense on a team that has historically been centered upon a run-and-gun, flashy attack. Expect the next coach to transition back to the beautiful game that Brazilians are so proud of.
Leaving his team in much better light is Gerardo Martino, who coached Paraguay to a surprising quarterfinal appearance and held vaunted Spain scoreless for 83 minutes in his final match. Martino says that he has received several job opportunities that he plans to explore. It's a credit to Martino's coaching and leadership that Paraguay, light on talent, was so heavy on hustle and always well prepared for its opponent despite playing without star striker Salvador Cabanas, who suffered and survived a gunshot wound in January.
The return of Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle to MLS action on Sunday also marked the LA Galaxy's first match since before the World Cup. Twenty-seven thousand flocked to the stadium to welcome the duo home from South Africa, a mind-boggling 37.5 percent increase over the Galaxy's 2010 average attendance coming into the match. On the field, the twice-teammates showed their camaraderie when Donovan assisted on a Buddle goal early in the 19th minute as the Galaxy improved to 11-1-3 on the season with a 3-1 win over Seattle Sounders FC. The hookup furthered Buddle's and Donovan's respective MLS leads in goals and assists, as each has now compiled 10 in his given category.
MLS attendance at large is up nearly 10 percent in 2010 from 2009, averaging over 16,442 fans a game. In fact, 9 out of 12 teams to have hosted a match since the World Cup started saw attendance go up from its last pre-tournament figure. The Revolution, unfortunately, have seen a 19.9 percent drop in attendance from 2009 and draw just over 10,500 to Gillette Stadium. At 3-9-2, the Revs currently look set to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002, so that likely has something to do with the disappointing (and concerning) figure.
Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas is experiencing some shoulder pain but will play against Germany on Wednesday. Fabregas entered the match in the early second half against Paraguay, substituting for the struggling Fernando Torres, and there's some thought that he may start in Torres's place on Wednesday with the team switching to a five-man midfield and using David Villa as a lone striker. Torres has been so invisible that it makes some sense to do so, but as in any situation involving the benching of a superstar, the risk in keeping him off the pitch is self-evident. It's not as if one of the world's top strikers has just lost his touch over the course of a month. He could make an impact at any second.
Nigerian president Goodluck Johnson has rescinded the two-year ban from international competition that he placed on the country's team following its disappointing showing in South Africa. FIFA had previously told Johnson's government that it had until Monday to reverse the decision before facing disciplinary measures, as government involvement in football operations is prohibited by the organization. On Sunday, as a demonstration of its commitment to improve, the Nigerian Football Federation fired its president and vice president. That measure, in tandem with FIFA's warning, seem to have given Johnson reason to reconsider. In Nigeria, media and fan reaction to the ban was surprisingly positive, so perhaps the Super Eagles will still fly under the radar for a couple of years.
FIFA head Sepp Blatter says that Africa's first World Cup has been a huge success. It's not like Blatter was going to say otherwise, but it seems to have gone pretty well with minimal hiccups. Attendance numbers are a bit lower than FIFA probably would like, but the only way to make the game completely global (not that it needs much more help at this point) is to literally bring it everywhere on the planet. An African World Cup needed to happen eventually and its success in 2010 is a great thing for the game and for the continent.
What to watch on Tuesday: The semifinals will get started when Uruguay and the Netherlands kick off in Cape Town. Not many brackets had these two in the semifinals before the tournament started, but one will come out of the match guaranteed no worse than a second place finish. I could possibly be tempted to pick Uruguay if Luis Suarez hadn't garnered a suspension with his remarkable and controversial handball at the end of extra time against Ghana, but without him up top they're a bit light offensively. Diego Forlan is a talented and physical striker who has paced the Uruguayan attack, but that attack hasn't been particularly potent and Suarez has been its key scorer. Meanwhile, against a strong offense, the Celeste are expected to be without three defenders: Diego Godin and Diego Lugano are both injured, while Jorge Fucile is suspended for the match. And with Joris Mathijson back in the fold, the Dutch defense is going to look a whole lot less flimsy than it did against Brazil. The match is a golden opportunity for the Oranje winners of nine straight and unbeaten in their last 24 to advance to their first final since 1978, thereby igniting pandemonium in the streets of Amsterdam. Defeat would spell disappointment for Holland, but then again, disappointment is one of the squad's historic strong suits.
Question of the Day: Is Robin Van Persie ready to leave his mark on the World Cup? With Wesley Sneijder terrorizing Dutch opponents and Arjen Robben's playing so strong since returning from a hamstring injury, little has been said about Van Persie's weak form thus far. The Arsenal striker has scored just once and is battling an elbow injury sustained against Brazil, but against a depleted Uruguay defense there's a real opportunity for him to break out. Continued excellence from Sneijder and Robben along with a strong Van Persie showing should be enough to send the Dutch forth.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Uruguay vs Netherlands Green Point Stadium, Cape Town 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: "There is a political dimension to football too - how many heads of states have come to visit South Africa, and they all want to make sure they have the pictures taken in the stands. That's the power of football. Football gives emotions in this deranged world. Look at the news and you see the world appears to have suddenly stopped and the TV cameras will after 12 July be used everywhere else in the world. We are giving hope to the world that perhaps through football we can become better human beings." - FIFA president Sepp Blatter, while speaking about the success of the 2010 World Cup on Monday.