Where would Holland be without Wesley Sneijder? While Robin van Persie still continued to be rubbish and Arjen Robben was a bit confused against the Brazilians because he needed to produce something more than just his trademark dribbling to be any good (although improved in the second half when playing in a wider position), it was down to Sneijder to pretty much single-handedly defeat Brazil in the quarter-final.
It was a game Holland were never supposed to win. The Dutch had nothing on the Brazilians until that fatal free-kick mistake by Julio Cesar. Sneijder drifted in a cross, Cesar blinked and punched the air: 1-1. Brazil were never supposed to let in a goal like that, or even a set piece goal for that matter, and this fact seemed to undress Brazil of all the excellence and mental strength they had showcased earlier on in the tournament. Then Sneijder scored from a perfectly exequted set-piece to make it 2-1. Felipe Melo lost his marbles and got sent off. And after a pretty much non-existent last push by Brazil, all of a sudden Holland found themselves with a ticket into the semi-final. It was strange how Dunga’s Brazil looked to have embarked on their World Cup journey completely without a plan-B. If you go into a World Cup expecting never to be a goal down, then this is exactly what you’ll get.
Back to the main event then. Despite their lukewarm performances, Holland is the biggest favorite in this semi-final fixture. It might not perhaps be so if Uruguay were not without a host of key players (Luis Suarez, Diego Lugano (?), Nicolas Lodeiro and Jorge Fucile). Diego Godin is fit however, which will be a huge boost. Also, Martin Caceres will finally get his chance. Uruguay have shown a tremendous spirit in this tournament so it is unlikely that they will go down without a fight.
Suarez’s absence is a major blow but Sebastian Abreu is a fine replacement. The inclusion of the experienced journeyman means that Uruguay have to change their tactics a bit. This does not necessarily have to be a bad thing though. Abreu will play as an traditional out-and-out central forward (Suarez tended to drift wide to get the ball, which at times left Uruguay’s central position in the attacking third unoccupied) and will try to tie the Dutch centre-backs to him and stretch the pitch as much as he can. This will not only free space for Forlan but also open up the possibility to use route one and play long balls to Abreu.
Although Lodeiro has not had a great tournament (he did show some promise against Ghana though), he is a player Uruguay could use in the attacking third to relieve some of the playmaking duties from Forlan. But since Lodeiro is unavailable, Edison Cavani, who has been a disappointment so far, has a crucial role to play as he has to provide attacking support for Uruguay’s front two. In the last two games Cavani has dropped too deep, away from his comfort zone, when Uruguay are without possession. In this match Uruguay need to risk their defensive shape a bit and free Cavani of some (but by no means all) of his defensive responsibilities in order to make their attacking play gel.
It will be a hard-fought contest in the middle of the park where Digo Perez and Egidio Arevalo try to cut off the supply to Robben, Sneijder and van Persie. Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong are no silky playmakers so this might be Uruguay’s best solution, especially since they are probably without two of their starting defenders.
Verdict: The heart says Uruguay, the head says Holland. Uruguay it is then.
Tactical detail: How will Uruguay be able to shift from defense to attack in the absence of the mobile Suarez, skillful Lodeiro and Fucile as full-back? Uruguay might play a variation between 4-4-1-1 (when defending) and 4-3-3 (when attacking) formations. When without to ball, Uruguay would defend with two banks of four, with Forlan applying some extra pressure on the Dutch midfielders when they come deeper for the ball, and Cavani would play on the right side of midfield. Then when Uruguay get possession, the formation would shift to a 4-3-3, with Forlan (in a freer role) and Cavani drifting to wide areas up the pitch to receive the ball. This system would require that Uruguay press the Dutch midfielders hard, leaving Sneijder relatively free, and keep their midfield shape extremely tight.