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Netherlands, Uruguay try to recapture past glory in first 2010 semifinal

Injuries and suspensions will force both the Oranje and La Celeste to improvise as they try to punch their ticket for the final. And both will have to battle history in what could be a war of nerves.

Netherlands and Uruguay flags

One of these teams will be playing on July 11

Coming off their upset of Brazil, and boasting a squad that features players from Europe's top clubs, Holland are definitely the favorites. But the Dutch know all too well that in football, favorites don't always win.

"We're not strutting around all day doing the polonaise," Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said after his team's stunning 2-1 defeat of the mighty Selecao. "We haven't yet reached our goal."

Holland are arguably soccer's greatest underachievers. The national team have never won a World Cup and, despite consistently fielding some of the sport's most innovative and entertaining teams, the last time they qualified for a final was way back in 1978.

This time around they're trying something different. Instead of total football, van Marwijk - whose resume includes a stint at Bundesliga side Dortmund - has emphasized a control and efficiency reminiscent of past German teams.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez, left, stops the ball with his hands

Suarez made a fine but costly save against Ghana

That hasn't always sat well with free-wheeling stars like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, but it's yielded results. Assistant coach Frank de Boer says the players have learned that winning ugly is better than losing beautifully.

"Our goal was to gain stability," de Boer has told reporters. "The team is mature and has internalized a system. We're now capable of getting off to poor starts and still winning matches."

The Oranje, however, will  be missing two major sources of that stability, right-back Gregory van der Wiel and defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong, when they take to the pitch in Cape Town on Tuesday. Both are suspended after picking up two yellow cards.

Fortunately for the Dutch, their opponents have far graver personnel issues.

Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson, left, and Uruguay's Diego Forlan go for the ball

Forlan has been on the mark

Survival artists

After his team's heart-stopping victory over Ghana on Friday, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez had spent much of his time defending striker Luis Suarez, whose last-second handball clearance would have done most goalkeepers proud - and earned the player a red card and a one-match ban.

Now, Tabarez will have to think about how to replace him - an unenviable task since none of his reserve strikers possess the pace or the touch of Suarez.

Much of the burden will fall on Diego Forlan. Uruguay's one true superstar has had a stand-out tournament and has been one of the few players to be effective from distance. But he'll have to work harder than ever to create space for his shots.

A fan of the Netherlands

Fans of both sides hope the party will continue

And the situation is even more troubling at the back. Left back Jorge Fucile is also suspended, while central defender and captain Diego Lugano is doubtful with a bruised knee - two potentially crushing blows for a defensively oriented team.

The main factor speaking for La Celeste in this match is pride. A two-time World Cup winner (1930 and 1950), Uruguay hasn't done this well since 1970, and a trip to another final would be a massive achievement  for a country of only 3.3 million inhabitants.

For that reason, Holland are preaching caution.

"Our next match is a very dangerous one," van Marwijk has said. "Uruguay's players are tremendous fighters and survival artists."

History in the making

Given the personnel constellation, the likely course of this match is obvious. The Netherlands will have to attack while Uruguay try to hang on, hoping for a goal against the run of play or a draw that would send the match to penalties.

The uglier the match, the better La Celeste's chances. So Uruguay are bound to try to irritate Robben, Sneijder and van Persie with niggling fouls. But can former reserves step up to fill the gaps and take some of the focus off Forlan?

Uruguay's captain, in any case, says the team isn't satisfied with just reaching the semis.

"We know that if we want to make history, we have to become champions," Diego Lugano told reporters. "We have two must-win matches to go. It's equally difficult and possible."

The challenge for the Oranje will be to keep their cool, stick with their game plan and trust that the superior quality will prevail, should they fail to break the match open with an early goal. That's a doable task - but one Dutch sides have often been unequal to in the past.

One thing is certain: Whichever team wins will reward long-suffering fans with their nation's greatest World Cup triumph in decades.

And that will add a bit of extra-tension to what's already shaping up to be a nervy contest.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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