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Tuesday, 06 July 2010

Holland v Uruguay- A Tough Choice For Football Romantics


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If there were two teams (apart from England) I didn't want to come up against each other in a World Cup semi-final it would be the Dutch and the Uruguayans- the two smallest nations to contest a World Cup Final going head-to -head.

The first time I ever even heard of a country called Uruguay it was because of football- in fact, aside from the Battle of the River Plate, Uruguay has rarely made headlines for anything else. But consider that only 3.5 million people carry the passport and you get some idea of what a footballing pocket battleship Uruguay is.

As well as two World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950, the Sky Blues also won the Olympics in 1924 and 1928- and as that was the main tournament in those pre-World Cup years, not unreasonably, Uruguayans claim four world titles instead of two.

It couldn't last of course and 1970 was the last time they were at the business end of a Mundial; yet the country still produced an astonishing line of star players for the size of the population. Much of their quality was lost though as the 1970s and 1980s Uruguayan sides often slipped into brutal cynicm under the pressure to emulate the past.

Scotland saw both sides in 1986 when Batista scythed Gordon Strachan after 56 seconds earning a red card. The Uruguayans then combined all manner of gamesmanship with some breathtaking possession football to force a 0-0 result that eliminated the Scots.

Its a great story to see the sixth smallest country even to qualify for World Cups back in the semi-finals. The pity is they play Holland- Holland, whose cavalier sides of 1974 and 1978 lost both finals to host nations. For impressionable youngsters they became everyone's second favourite country (apart from in Germany).

While Total Football has been off the agenda since the 1970s, Dutch sides have still shown a fluidity and passion to attack that few nations have matched. In 1994 and 1998 they were only downed by Brazil sides at their best- on other occasiosn- much like Uruguay- temperament has taken over and the camp hasn't been a happy one.

Either one against Germany or Spain and there would be no problem who to cheer for. When the two teams come out on Tuesday night it will be a toss-up which one to urge on. Perhaps the best course is to leave it to fate because history suggests one of these teams will implode catastrophically- it just means too much for both these nations.

Holland- Uruguay is one of those contests that World Cups are all about, The clash of European and South American style is always epic but these two teams have more in common than most; world football's two most dangerous underdogs should make it a wild night.

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Hugh Larkin

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