And then there were four... who will win the world's greatest prize?

Uruguay face Holland, the conquerors of Brazil, tomorrow and favourites Spain take on the effervescent young Germans on Wednesday. Glenn Moore assesses the semi-finalists' prospects
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The Independent Online

URUGUAY

World Cup form DWWWD
Goals (for-against) 7-2
Top goalscorer 3, Suarez, Forlan

Ever-presents: (7) Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Lugano, Arevalo, Perez, Forlan, Suarez
Suspended Suarez, Fucile

How they got here

Oscar Tabarez became La Celeste's fifth coach in four years when he took over after Uruguay's failure to reach the 2006 World Cup finals. He bought himself time when, after a rocky start, Uruguay reached the 2007 Copa America semi-final before losing a controversial penalty shoot-out to Brazil. Inconsistent in qualifying, they edged past Costa Rica in a play-off but have been very solid in South Africa.



How they play

The most flexible team in the tournament, they are happy to play several formations in one game, with an impressive ability to switch from a defensive set-up to an attacking one. They began as one of the few teams playing three at the back but have fielded a back four in their last three games. They usually deploy two holding midfielders, Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo (the only Uruguay-based outfielder in the squad), and have used Diego Forlan either behind or alongside Luis Suarez, who will miss the semi-final. They are strong at set pieces, which Forlan takes. Unlike the other semi-finalists, they send free-kicks near the halfway line into "the mixer", rather than taking them short.



The gaffer

Tabarez, 63, played for several moderate Montevideo clubs, and briefly in Mexico and Argentina. He began coaching in 1980, taking over the national team in 1988. He steered La Celeste to the knockout stage at Italia '90 then returned to the domestic arena. He has coached big clubs in Italy (Milan), Argentina (Boca Juniors, Velez Sarsfield), Uruguay (Penarol, with whom he won the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League), Colombia (Deportivo Cali) and also, with Real Oviedo, in Spain. He is a former teacher who often names his starting XI more than a day in advance.



Key player

The defensive unit has been sound but it is Forlan who makes things happen, whether playing off the front or leading the line. The Atletico Madrid striker is in superb form.



Strengths

Sophisticated tactically, strong defensively, a goalscoring threat in Forlan. They have overachieved already, so no burden of expectation. Calm manager. Good at set plays.

Weaknesses

Injuries (Nicolas Lodeiro is out, and defender Diego Godin and captain Diego Lugano may also be unfit) and suspensions (Suarez and Jorge Fucile) will stretch the squad, especially at the back. May be over-reliant on Forlan for inspiration. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera is suspect in the air.

HOLLAND
World Cup form WWWWW
Goals (for-against) 9-3
Top goalscorer 4, Sneijder
Ever-presents (8) Stekelenberg, Heitinga, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Jong, Kuyt, Sneijder, Van Persie
Suspended Van der Wiel, De Jong



How they got here

Marco van Basten quit as coach after his team faded badly at both the last World Cup and Euro 2008. Bert van Marwijk replaced him and immediately declared that his aim was to win the World Cup. They romped through a weak qualifying group and extended their unbeaten run to 24 matches (including nine successive wins) in South Africa by defeating Brazil in the quarter-finals.



How they play

Van Basten, a Johan Cruyff disciple, wanted to win with panache in the Dutch tradition. Van Marwijk wants to win. This has led to long periods – poorly received at home – in which the back four and holding players pass among themselves, waiting for the opposition to commit rather than taking risks.

They play with a five-man midfield but this is a fairly rigid 4-2-3-1. Robin van Persie leads the line, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt are on the flanks (with orders to hug the touchlines when in possession), Wesley Sneijder plays in the hole, while Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong hold. The full-backs push on to an extent, more so the right-back Gregory van der Wiel, but he and De Jong will both miss the semi-final through suspension.



The gaffer

Van Marwijk, 58, was a left-sided attacking midfielder, primarily with mid-ranking Dutch clubs, who won one cap. He began as a youth coach, then worked his way to Feyenoord, with whom he won the Uefa Cup. He had an ordinary spell with debt-ridden Borussia Dortmund, and a successful return to Feyenoord before the national team called. He billeted the team in Johannesburg's city centre to reduce the chance of ego- and boredom-driven implosion.



Key player

Sneijder's awareness can split defences, but it is Robben who makes the difference. The winger's pace, quick footwork and accurate shooting transform the Dutch team from a solid outfit to a threatening one.



Strengths

Patient and well-organised, with Robben's explosive trickery on one flank and the tireless Kuyt on the other. Sneijder's set-piece delivery and passing are astute.



Weaknesses

The defence wobbled when Brazil put them under pressure. One full-back is past his best, the other a long way from reaching it, John Heitinga is prone to dive in. Van Bommel and De Jong concede fouls too easily. Van Persie is lacking sharpness after a long injury lay-off, and his frustration at failing to score is showing.

GERMANY
World Cup form WLWWW
Goals (for-against) 13-2
Top goalscorers 4, Müller, Klose
Ever-presents (9) Neuer, Lahm, Friedrich, Mertesacker, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Müller, Podolski, Ozil.
Suspended Müller



How they got here

After Germany unexpectedly reached the semi-finals as hosts in 2006, Jürgen Klinsmann quit as coach and Joachim Löw was promoted from assistant. He adapted the 4-4-2 formation without changing the attacking approach and Germany reached the final of Euro 2008. Löw then decided to bring in young players to, in his word, "rejuvenate". This was achieved while defeating Russia home and away to qualify.

In South Africa, with the youngest Germany squad since the 1930s, they have scored four goals on three occasions, against Australia, England and Argentina. The only setback was the unlucky defeat to Serbia.

How they play

A mobile 4-5-1 formation with Miroslav Klose ahead of a midfield that floods forward with pace and movement. Mesut Ozil operates in the hole behind Klose but drifts to create space for Sami Khedira. Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller are goalscoring wide players. They press high up the pitch when the opposition has the ball.



The gaffer

Löw, 50, was a moderate player who spent most of his career in Bundesliga 2. He became a competent coach, winning a title in Austria and the German Cup, but was sacked by both Karlsruhe and Turkish club Adanaspor. Then Klinsmann, whom Löw had met on a coaching course, hired him as assistant. Klinsmann provided the personality, Löw the tactics. Both believed in attacking football and investing in youth. Urbane and loyal, "Yogi" can also be outspoken and ruthless. Contract talks with the DFB (German FA) broke down in acrimony this year.

Key player

Ozil has taken the headlines and the 21-year-old is a star in the making but Bastian Schweinsteiger makes the Nationalmannschaft tick. The converted wide midfielder has filled Michael Ballack's shoes with a series of mature performances, dictating play from the holding role.



Strengths

Germany have pace and energy in most areas, and plenty of forward movement from midfield. They are tactically astute and disciplined. Goals can come from a variety of sources. Philipp Lahm and Müller have linked well on the right.



Weaknesses

Lack of experience can be a problem when things go awry. The only time they have been behind, against Serbia, they lost, and they looked rattled when England rallied. Left-back is a problem position. Rookie goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has made a couple of poor judgement calls.

SPAIN
World Cup form LWWWW
Goals (for-against) 6-2
Top goalscorer 5, Villa
Ever-presents (9) Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Villa
Suspended None



How they got here

After winning Euro 2008, Spain's first triumph in 44 years, coach Luis Aragones moved on. Vicente del Bosque changed little as Spain qualified for the finals with a record 10 straight wins. They suffered a shock defeat in the opening game to Switzerland, only their second loss in 48 games, but reached the last four with a series of narrow wins.



How they play

Their shape has varied from 4-2-3-1 to 4-5-1, 4-1-3-2, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. The preference is for Fernando Torres to lead the line, with David Villa either partnering him or supporting from the left, but Torres' poor form means Villa usually finishes as a lone forward, often supported by Cesc Fabregas. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets hold in midfield, Andres Iniesta works a flank, usually the right, Xavi plays behind the striker(s), Sergio Ramos gets forward from right-back, while Jesus Navas and Pedro offer wing play from the bench. They press as a pack when not in possession.



The gaffer

Del Bosque, 59, played in defence for Real Madrid for more than a decade, winning five titles and 18 caps. He was made coach in late 1999 and ruled the galacticos with a light touch. He won the Champions League and La Liga twice each before surprisingly being fired in 2003. His only job between then and taking charge of Spain was a brief one at Besiktas in Turkey.

Key player

Xavi is the fulcrum of the team's ball rotation and Iniesta supplies much of the imagination, but it is impossible to look beyond Villa. The Barcelona-bound striker has scored five of the team's six goals, playing in a variety of positions without losing potency.



Strengths

Superb technique and constant player movement enable them to keep possession for long periods, wearing opponents out and creating gaps to exploit. Near-telepathic link between the Barcelona players. Excellent goalkeeper. A bench that includes Fabregas, Navas, Pedro, Pepe Reina and David Silva. Consistent selection.



Weaknesses

Spain have struggled to break down teams who defend in depth, which could be a problem if they face Uruguay in the final. Torres is even less fit than Wayne Rooney. The central defender Carles Puyol can be exposed for pace, Ramos leaves gaps in behind. They have missed two penalties in the tournament.

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