Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Uruguay v. Netherlands

So the first World Cup semi-final will be played today, and it is a match between Uruguay and the Netherlands. This game has a remarkably old-school feel to it -- as if Marquette and North Carolina State were to meet in the Final Four. Uruguay won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950, but hasn't gotten this far in the tournament since 1970. The Dutch have never won the tournament, but they reached the final in both 1974 and 1978. The smart money said that while countries this small may have been competitive in the past -- when far fewer countries poured significant resources into soccer -- they shouldn't be able to do so well today. But the smart money has been wrong.

In my opinion, this is a bit of a mismatch. In three quarter-final games, the European teams outscored the South American teams by a total score of 7-1, and swept all three matches. Uruguay has been extremely lucky that they have only played one European team in the whole tournament -- a desultory 0-0 draw with France on the very first day of the tournament. Furthermore, Uruguay lost one of their best strikers due to the handball they used to beat Ghana.

In light of these facts, I think it is extremely unlikely that Uruguay will try to play with the Netherlands. Instead, I expect Uruguay to try for a scoreless draw and hope to advance on penalty kicks. If the Dutch can get an early lead, and force Uruguay out of its shell, they should have a fairly easy time of it.

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