world cup

Today, the ‘Lesser’ of the Semifinals

Josh Dean, one of the founding editors of the late PLAY, The New York Times Sports Magazine and occasional sportswriter for Rolling Stone and Outside, will be writing every weekday for The Sports Section about the World Cup. Today … a preview of the Uruguay-Netherlands semifinal.

I’m tired. After 60 games, thousands of words, and at least that many pints of beer, here I am, staring sad-eyed at the end of the greatest sporting event on Earth. Just three games remain — actually, four, but one of those is the third-place game, the NFL Pro Bowl of the World Cup — and less than a week from today this will all be over and I’ll be back to doing whatever it was I was doing before this all started. It’s been so long now that I can’t even remember what that was.

This afternoon brings the lesser of the two semifinals, featuring one team that should be here, the Oranje Crush, and another that should already be back home in Punta del Este, enjoying the spoils of a successful run to the quarters. (That being rum drinks in the company of topless supermodels, or at least that’s how I imagine it.) But yet, here is Uruguay, still alive and determined to ruin my tournament predictions by taking down the Dutch.

It’s going to be tough for the team in baby blue stripes. Luis Suarez is definitely out — but then his entire team would be joining him if his magic hand hadn’t saved Ghana’s game-winning goal from actually winning the game. So I guess you’ll take that if you’re a fan. Unfortunately, his absence leaves a gigantic faux-hawk-size hole in Uruguay’s attack, and it’s hard to imagine how they can possibly muster as many scoring chances without him. It puts a ton of pressure on Young Michael Bolton to carry the load. YMB is capable of brilliance; he’s easily one of the five best players in this year’s tournament. But without Suarez, there is no one to receive his precision long balls, nor to clean up rebounds or receive the easy pass when three defenders swarm like bees around his golden locks.

A weakened attack means Uruguay is likely to play a defensive game, hoping to keep this thing 0–0 as long as possible while waiting patiently for an opportune moment to counterattack. This would be a decent strategy under normal circumstances — Uruguay actually has had one of the best defenses in the tournament — but the team’s defense has big problems. Excellent left back Jorge Fucile is out on suspension (yellow cards), and the captain and sweeper, Diego Lugano, could also be out with an injury; even if he plays, it won’t be at full speed.

Does that equal an easy win for the Netherlands? I doubt it. The Dutch have their own problems, particularly on defense, which was already the team’s weak spot. Fullback Gregory van der Wiel and thuggish midfielder Nigel de Jong are both out with suspensions. And striker Robin van Persie could be hampered by a sore elbow, as well as by his ongoing feud with the team’s best player, Wesley Sneijder, who is an equal opportunity dickhead, having also talked shit about the team’s dorky, but dangerous midfielder, Dirk Kuyt, in the run-up to the Cup.

Holland is the only undefeated team left in the tournament, even if none of the team’s wins have been terribly impressive, at least on the scale of what Dutch fans expect. The vaunted Total Football has been more like Totally Fine Football — good enough to win every game without being good enough to convince anyone beyond me that they’re good enough to win the World Cup.

Is it good enough to beat Uruguay? Most certainly.

My prediction: 2–0 Holland.

Today, the ‘Lesser’ of the Semifinals