I'm going to be doing previews of every World Cup game from here on in. Next up, the semifinals. We'll start with the Netherlands - Uruguay, which will be televised at 11:30 a.m. Pacific (2:30 a.m. Eastern) on CBC today.
Top scorer: Wesley Sneijder, four goals
Record:(W-L-D, regulation time) 3-0-2
Top scorer: Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, three goals each
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This should be a fantastic match. The Netherlands haven't made it to the semifinals since 1998, while Uruguay haven't reached this stage since 1970. They arrived here by very different paths as well. The Dutch played solid but unspectacular football in the group stage, winning all three of their matches against the unimposing likes of Cameroon, Japan and Denmark. It was a new approach from a side that had long favoured style over substance, producing spectacular highlight reels but less spectacular results. They continued that pattern in the Round of 16 with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia, but it was tough to fancy them against the Brazilians in the quarterfinals. Their effective, if not effulgent, style paid benefits, though, and they dispatched one group of South Americans to earn a semifinal date with another side from the continent. Arjen Robben is probably the biggest star on the Dutch side, and he and Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder have been superb so far, but their victories so far have been more about cohesive defending and strong team play than outstanding individual performances, which would have been tough to predict before the World Cup began.
Uruguay's World Cup has perhaps been even more surprising. They wound in a very tough group with 2006 finalists France, ever-dangerous Mexico and hosts South Africa, and few favoured them to advance. Not only did they advance, they won the group after a draw with the Gauls and victories over the hosts and the CONCACAF representatives. They then knocked off South Korea in the Round of 16 before topping Ghana in the most bizarre game of this tournament so far, where star forward Luis Suarez saved the day with a last-second handball and his team came through on penalties. That handball has touched off debate around the world, including a great piece from Joe Posnanski, but for the moment, it's in the past. What's important is how the teams match up going into today's game.
Uruguay has an excellent squad, including Athletico Madrid (and former Manchester United) striker Diego Forlan, but they'll be missing four starters including Suarez [Paul James, The Globe and Mail, and the Dutch will be a tougher task than any side they've faced thus far. I'd love to see the South Americans continue their magical run and rekindle the glories of footballing days past, but all logic suggests that the Oranje Army will go marching on to the final.
Prediction: Netherlands 2, Uruguay 1