TODAY -
Stage set for QF clashes
Source: The Sangai Express / AP (Robert Millward)

Johannesburg, June 30 2010: A first ever South American semifinal sweep could unfold at the World Cup if Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay all win their quarterfinals, while European powers Spain, Germany and Netherlands and lone African survivor Ghana are out to make sure that doesn't happen.

Four multiple World Cup winners and four who have never captured the title have made it to the quarter-finals and two of the matchups � Argentina-Germany and Netherlands-Brazil � are worthy of the final itself.

In the other quarterfinals, two-time World Cup winner Uruguay faces Ghana and Paraguay takes on European champion Spain.

Argentina and Germany met in back-to-back finals in 1986 and '90 and the common denominator is Diego Maradona, who played in each final and now coaches the South American side.

"I feel like pulling on the jersey and playing myself, it is beautiful to be involved with this group of players, I feel proud to share these moments with them," said the former star whose ability as a coach was put into doubt by some poor performances in qualifying.

Maradona was criticized for leaving behind Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, who starred in Inter Milan's Champions League triumph.

But four wins out of four have dispelled all the doubts and now he takes on Germany again.

Germany ousted Argentina in the quarterfinals at the last World Cup, winning a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in Berlin.

It got to the last eight by outplaying England 4-1 and also put four past Australia in a group game.

But seven of Joachim Loew's squad have yellow cards and another will rule them out of the semifinals, in which it could meet Spain in a repeat of the Euro 2008 final.

Spain beat neighbour Portugal 1-0 on Tuesday to set up a quarterfinal meeting with Paraguay at Johannesburg's Ellis Park on Saturday.

The Spaniards overcame a shock loss to Switzerland in group play to move into the last eight with David Villa scoring in three games in a row, including the winner against the Portuguese.

However, co-striker Fernando Torres' poor run of form continued, and the Liverpool forward has yet to score in the tournament.

In its fourth World Cup in a row, Paraguay reached the quarterfinals for the first time by winning a penalty shootout against Japan after a 0-0 draw in Pretoria.

Friday's Brazil-Netherlands game in Port Elizabeth brings together the five-time winning Brazilians against a country which has never won football's biggest prize but was runnersup twice in the 1970s.Back in those days, the Dutch had a style of play that matched the Brazilians, but the team fell just short in terms of making it count.

This Dutch side has a similar look, attack-minded and with top quality stars such as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, who are capable of unlocking any defence in the game.

But this Brazilian rearguard has a far more solid look than those teams of the past who were weak at the back.

That Dutch trio not only come up against the mighty Lucio and Juan�who are strong in the air as well as on the ground�but Brazil also has defensive midfielders who will stop the flow of passes to the Dutch front men and allow their full-backs, Maicon and Michel Bastos, to attack down the flanks.

"We know the Netherlands are a very difficult team to play against," said Brazil coach Dunga.

"Their football is actually very similar to South American football.

They don't try to stay defending and rely on long balls.

They have technical quality and we will need to be ready for that.

It's a solid team" .

Their three World Cup meetings have ended with the winner going on to reach the final.

Dunga was captain of the Brazil side that beat the Dutch 3-2 in the 1994 quarterfinals in Dallas on the way to winning the title.

The two sides also met in the 1974 World Cup when the Dutch won a second-round group game 2-0 on the way to reaching the final, where they lost to West Germany.

Their last meeting was in the 1998 version when Brazil won on penalties after a 1-1 semifinal draw, only to lose 3-0 to host France in the final.

The winner faces either Uruguay or Ghana in the semifinals in Cape Town July 6 .

Despite winning the World Cups in 1930 and '50, Uruguay has not made it this far since 1970 but is having a revival under coach Oscar Tabarez.

He has devised a three-man attacking system with Diego Forlan playing behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, while its defence did not concede until the 68th minute of its fourth game, a 2-1 victory over South Korea.

Ghana was Africa's only team to get through the first round at the last World Cup and is the only survivor here, this time making it to the last eight despite the absence of its best player, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien.

Now the young team guided by Serb coach Milovan Rajevac carries the hopes of the entire continent in a first meeting of the two nations on a football field although inform striker Asamoah Gyan is struggling to overcome an ankle injury.


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