Southern comfort impairs Euro vision

THIS World Cup has been dominated by South American sides, so what odds on them dominating the semi-final line-up by the time the whistles blow in Cape Town and Johannesburg on Saturday?

It would mean Paraguay beating Spain, perhaps the longest shot of all, but a quick look at Paraguay’s defensive record – only one goal conceded in four matches – and a deeper look at Spain’s attacking threat – only two goalscorers all tournament – may be enough to convince a canny gambler there is food there for thought.

The rest of the equation is not so difficult to contemplate; for the World Cup to have its first ever South American clean sweep, Argentina would need to beat Germany, Brazil would need to beat Holland and Uruguay win against Ghana.

It makes you wonder just what European teams are doing wrong this year but with England, France and Italy already out, there is certainly a swing to the southern hemisphere in this World Cup and the momentum is building.

For instance there is little doubt that the most impressive team in South Africa so far has been Maradona’s Argentina who have recovered from a decidedly shaky qualifying campaign to hit top form at the right time.

We are still waiting for the first goal from the mercurial Lionel Messi but he has dominated matches all the same and instead relied on Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain to finish the moves he so eloquently begins.

Considering the strength of Argentina’s midfield, anchored by the excellent Javier Mascherano, and the pace and passion of their forward play there is every chance they will overcome Germany on Saturday to reach the last four.

The Germans were somewhat flattered by their 4-1 win over England, not just by Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal but by England’s total disregard for the basics of defence when they were only 2-1 behind – a mistake Argentina will certainly not make.

As for Brazil against Holland, it would be possible to make an argument either way.

Both teams have looked comfortable during the tournament so far without the need to hit top gear, both have outstanding attacking players and organised defences, but you sense Brazil just have the edge in terms of tournament play.

Holland were excellent at Euro 2008, for instance, until the knockout stages when they were outclassed by Russia while Brazil arrived in South Africa having already won the Confederations Cup in Johannesburg last year, coming from 2-0 down to beat the USA; they know what it takes to make it through and have added a team togetherness and never-say-die spirit to their traditional skills. Perhaps the most unpredictable quarter-final of all sees Uruguay take on Ghana on Friday, two teams who probably didn’t expect to be at this stage of the competition but have used defensive solidity to their advantage.

Will the emotional tide of support for Africa’s last representatives take Ghana through?

Or will it all simply end in disappointment, just as it inevitably did for the hosts earlier in the tournament?

Given Ghana’s lack of real firepower and worrying injuries to defender John Mensah, midfelder Kevin Prince Boateng and key striker Asamoah Gyan, the odds are clearly not in their favour.

This could be South America’s year.


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