The 2010 World Cup was brought to life this week, as the quarter final stage provided some huge shocks to many fans. Two of the pre-tournament favourites, Brazil and Argentina, were knocked out of the competition leaving only Uruguay to represent the South American continent going into the final stages of this highly prestigious contest. Meanwhile, hot favourites Spain struggled through against Paraguay, their talisman David Villa ensuring progress into the last four with a late winner.
The first team to go through were the Netherlands. With heavy anticipation of some much-needed success for the Dutch, the pressure was well and truly on the Orange Army to overcome the best team in the world – Brazil. The Brazilians began well, Felipe Melo splitting the Dutch defence with a simple pass to Robinho, who duly struck home. But if Brazil were excellent in the first half, they capitulated in the second. Melo was unfortunate to head into his own net from a teasing Sneijder cross, thus levelling the scores. However, there was nothing unfortunate about Holland’s winner, with Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt heading the ball onto Sneijder from a corner, who made no mistake as he powered a header into the back of the net. Brazil looked perplexed and uncharacteristically uncomfortable at the back. After Melo’s inexplicable stamp on Robben resulted in a red card, there was no way back for the Brazilians. Dunga is now expected to quit, but there is much disappointment in Brazil as their national side certainly looked capable of winning this tournament, only to be undone at the quarter-final stage again with some magic from Sneijder.
The next fixture saw dark-horses Uruguay take on the only African side remaining in the competition in the form of the Black Stars, Ghana. Both sides went into the game as surprise packages of the tournament, neither having been expected to reach this stage. With a front three of Suarez, Forlan and Cavani, Uruguay were always going to be favourites for this game, yet the manner of the victory defied virtually all pre-match predictions. Inter midfielder Muntari opened the scoring with an outrageous 35 yard screamer which zipped erratically through the air to wrong-foot Muslera, before Diego Forlan equalised with an equally incredible free-kick. But it was the last moments of the game that provided the most entertainment. With only seconds to go of the allotted thirty minutes of extra-time, Luis Suarez handled the ball on the goal line to prevent Ghana from clinching the winner and a place in the semi-finals. Call it cheating or instinctive, Suarez certainly committed a football sin and was duly sent-off. Asamoah Gyan stepped up to win the game for Ghana, but the striker struck the crossbar, thus taking the contest to a penalty shootout. Uruguay won the battle of the spot-kicks and the whole of Africa were saddened. How close they came to clinching a place in the last four, but the pressure of a whole continent proved too much for Gyan. Uruguay will now face the Dutch for a place in the World Cup final.
Saturday saw the other favourites of the tournament, Argentina, face a youthful Germany side who many consider to have been punching above their weight in the tournament. Having defeated England with some ease, the Germans were expected to face a tougher test from Maradona’s men, who had the likes of Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Aguero and Diego Milito to choose from to lead the line. The former three were selected and duly disappointed as Germany provided a disciplined yet scintillating display to cruise to a 4-0 victory. They began well and ended well, with the shambolic Argentina backline doing all they could do aid their potent opponents. Once the Germans went a couple of goals up, Maradona’s side became more open the back as they began to chase the game, allowing Joachim Low’s boys side to counter at will. There was so much hope for Lionel Messi prior to the tournament, but in all honesty he disappointed. Without a goal and some poor displays, Messi joined the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Ribery out of the competition having failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype.
It took an extraordinary five minutes of play to bring the final quarter final to life. Spain were heavy favourites to beat Paraguay and book a place in the last four, but the Paraguayans frustrated them and it had been a rather poor game until the South Americans were awarded a penalty in the second half. Oscar Cardozo stepped up only to see Iker Casillas hold his driven spot-kick. His misery was compounded just minutes later when the Spanish were awarded their own penalty after David Villa had been clipped when through on goal. Xabi Alonso scored his first attempt, but the referee ordered it to be retaken for encroachment. Alonso duly missed his second and the scores remained level. Nevertheless, the brave, yet fatigued Paraguayans could not force extra time, as David Villa, once more the man of the moment for Spain, sealed victory with an instinctive strike after Pedro had hit the post.
So, with two of the pre-tournament favourites out of the World Cup, it is now up to Uruguay, Holland, Germany and Spain to battle it out for the trophy. Spain will still be favourites to win it, just as they have been all along, but with in-form Germany their next opponents, a swift improvement is required. Germany are considered by many to be too young to win the tournament, but having outclassed England and Argentina, the future may have arrived four years early for Low’s charges. Uruguay have cruised through the tournament but were fortunate to make it this far after their heroics against Ghana, will a Dutch side that defeated Brazil be able to end the Uruguayan dream? All remains to be seen as we approach the final stages of this tournament.