By Lawrence Ostlere
What players are going to miss out on the semifinals…
Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg told yesterday how he text Ajax teammate Luis Suarez following the dramatic climax to Uruguay’s defeat of Ghana to suggest he should win goalkeeper of tournament, after the South American’s were saved by the deliberate hand-ball of Suarez in the final minute of extra time. But, after revealing his joke, Stekelenburg went on to highlight a crucial point – the Netherlands have an advantage now the Uruguayan striker is suspended for their semi-final clash.
While the attention will be on the players starring on the semi-final stage over the next two matches, it may in truth be just as important to note who is missing from the line-ups. Any player sent off in the quarter finals is suspended from the semis, and any player who has accrued two yellow cards during the tournament will also be unable to play.
Whilst Suarez ‘Hand of God’ moment, as he has since dubbed it, has sent Uruguay through to the final four of the World Cup, they must win without him if they are to reach the final in Johannesburg on Sunday. Sebastien Abreu is expected to replace him, the man who scored an audacious winning penalty in the shoot-out against Ghana.
However, after an incredible 49 goal season with Ajax, Suarez has continued his predatory form in South Africa with 3 goals, including a fine winner to beat South Korea, and will be a huge loss against the Dutch. Jorge Fucile is also suspended which, when added to the injuries of Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Lugano, will make Uruguay’s mammoth task even greater.
The Dutch will be favourites to progress to the final and have Robin Van Persie fit to lead their attack. However, right-back Gregory van der Wiel and bullish midfielder Nigel de Jong are suspended, and de Jong’s absence could be particularly important. He has played a crucial holding role in front of the Dutch defence, making strong tackles and breaking up opponents play. Veteran Marc Van Bommel may be asked to cover these duties, but he does not have the mobility and physicality of de Jong, and this might add a vulnerability to the Netherland’s defence.
Whilst Germany have injury worries over right-back Arne Friedrich, midfielder Sami Khedira and striker Cacau, their biggest problem is the suspension of Thomas Mueller. Normally a striker, Mueller has been playing on the right side during the World Cup, with devastating effect. The counter-attacking football that Coach Joachim Loew has deployed in South Africa suits Mueller’s pace, and he has been in excellent form with four goals.
If Cacau is injured, Germany may look to either Marco Marin, a tiny, tricky winger, or the more cumbersome Mario Gomez, neither of which would suit the team as well as Mueller, who could prove to be a critical loss.
Spain are the only side with no suspended players. They do have concerns over the fitness of Cesc Fabregas and the form of the struggling Fernando Torres, but the fact that coach Vicente del Bosque can choose from a full squad of extremely talented players may give Spain the edge in what is set to be a fascinating encounter with Germany.
Lawrence Ostlere is a freelance writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org