Coen Lammers: The old firm gathers in semi-finals

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Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi and teammates celebrate at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Argentina and Belgium at the Estadio Nacional in Brasil. Photo / AP.
Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi and teammates celebrate at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Argentina and Belgium at the Estadio Nacional in Brasil. Photo / AP.

And so there are only four.

More than 200 countries started to fight for their spot at the World Cup four years ago, some with real ambitions and some with little expectations.

Nearly 900 matches and thousands of goals later, we know our four semi-finalists and they are all among the super powers of world football.

The tournament has been lauded as the World Cup of upsets, but when the prizes are handed out, four of the big guns are there to battle it out for the spoils.

Brazil, a five-time champion, Germany a triple winner and double world champion Argentina are joined by the Netherlands, the most successful country never to raise the trophy.

Naturally, the 200 million Brazilians are rejoicing and almost relieved that their team is among the semi-finalists. In a way, the parallels to the 2011 All Blacks get stronger with every round, as nervous expectation alternates with plain relief, instead of happiness.

Brazil demands the Sexta, or The Sixth One, to wipe out the shame of 1950 when Uruguay spoilt the party in the Maracana.

For the time being, however, the country has gone into mourning after the news spread that talisman Neymar Jr will miss the rest of the World Cup with a broken vertebrae.

New Zealand was in shock when Daniel Carter was injured in 2011 but the wall-to-wall coverage on Brazilian television yesterday was reminiscent of the death of Princess Diana of JFK, rather than a sporting injury.

The somber commentary accompanying Neymar's helicopter transfer from the hospital in Fortaleza to his home in Guaruja sounded like a funeral.

It was not until the young star emerged on television at night to thank his fans for their support that everyone knew that he is still alive to fight another World Cup.

Brazil is still stacked with talent, but the loss of Neymar is a massive psychological blow to the team and the country.

Their German semi-final opponents on the other hand will draw inspiration from this development, which they need after their lacklustre 1-0 win over France on Saturday.

Germany has not been able to replicate their flying start against Portugal and the cauldron of Belo Horizonte on Wednesday will be the ultimate exam for Joachim Loew's men.

With the number of talented teams in this World Cup, it almost seems bizarre that an underwhelming Argentina side has stumbled into the semi-finals.

Lionel Messi has had his moments, but again his team failed to excite in their quarterfinal against Belgium who only have themselves to blame for showing too much respect for their famous opponents.

Argentina now face the Netherlands who survived the lottery of the penalty shootout after the feisty Costa Ricans refused to lie down.

The Dutch have shown some impressive form and resilience, coming from behind on three occasions, and now overcoming their long-held trauma around penalties.

History will also play a role in the Sao Paulo semi-final, as Arjen Robben and co want to avenge the Dutch loss to Argentina in the 1978 final.

And after their Houdini acts against Mexico and Costa Rica, who would put it past them?
Whoever will end up in the final next week, the poster will feature two giants of world football, worthy of the sacred grounds of the Maracana.

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