Fighting for a place in final


The World Cup's history men face the competition's nearly men when inaugural hosts and twice winners Uruguay take on double runners-up Netherlands in Cape Town on Tuesday fighting it out for a place in the final.

Not just Uruguayan soccer but the country's whole national identity draws heavily on their victories of 1930 and 1950.

Semi-finals in 1954 and 1970 showed that those early successes were not a flash in the pan but it has been meagre pickings since then before this year's surpise march.

"I don't know what would happen if we were to achieve what that team achieved back in 1950," said coach Oscar Tabarez.

"We still hold those champions as idols," he added.

Image: Uruguay team celebrate after making it to the semi-finals
Photographs: Reuters

Every Dutch player also operates under long shadows: in their case those cast by the likes of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Johnny Rep and the "Total Football" of the 1970s.

In 1974 and 1978 the Dutch were cast as chief bridesmaid -- they might have been prettier than the bride on both occasions but at the end of the ceremony it was still West Germany and Argentina who signed the register.

The 1988 European championship-winning side of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard could not transfer their success to the world stage while a shoot-out defeat to Brazil in the 1998 semi-finals was another frustrating near miss.

Image: The Netherlands team celebrate after a goal

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All that will count for nothing in Cape Town however, as both sides will be looking very much to the future, to July 11 and a Johannesburg appointment with Germany or Spain.

Everything points to the Netherlands advancing to set up a second-successive all-European final, leaving egg on the face of those writing off the continent only a week ago.

The Dutch are on a phenomenal run. Having won all their qualifying matches to get to South Africa they won all three group games here and two knockout matches.

The last of them, 2-1 against Brazil after weathering an early onslaught, has left them buzzing and fearing nobody.

Image: Arjen Robben during a practice session

With four-goal midfielder Wesley Sneijder pulling the strings, they look a well-balanced side, with goals conveniently coming from a wide variety of sources as rusty striker Van Persie plays his way back to full fitness.

Arjen Robben, whether by scoring, creating, or drawing fouls, is their key weapon and the winger can expect some very close attention from Uruguay's uncompromising defenders.

Unsurpisingly, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk is treating the last surviving South American team with respect.

"This is a very dangerous game, they are fighters and we have to be very focused," he said.

The Dutch are without right back Gregory van der Wiel and midfielder Nigel de Jong, who are both suspended. Khalid Boulahrouz and Demy de Zeeuw are the likely replacements though Ibrahim Afellay or Rafael van der Vaart could be in the mix.

Joris Mathijsen, a late withdrawal from the quarter-final, is fit to play, as is Van Persie, who had a slight knock.

Image: Wesley Sneijder celebrates after scoring the winner against Brazil

Uruguay need to be at their absolute best to have any chance but suspensions and injury have hit them hard.

Striker Luis Suarez, who spent the last three years terrorising Dutch defences for Ajax Amsterdam, is banned for his match-saving goalline handball against Ghana, as is defender Jorge Fucile, who earned a second yellow card against Ghana.

Midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro is out of the tournament after fracturing a bone in his foot while captain Diego Lugano faces a race against time to overcome a knee ligament problem.

On the bright side, defender Diego Godin, who missed the Ghana match with a thigh injury, should be available.

In Suarez's absence, the slim shoulders of Diego Forlan, who hit the equaliser against Ghana for his third goal of the tournament, will carry his nation's weighty expectations.

Image: Diego Forlan

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