Michael Burgess: Heavyweight semis could confirm best World Cup ever

Argentina, Netherlands, Germany and Brazil make up a formidable semifinal lineup. Photo /AP
Argentina, Netherlands, Germany and Brazil make up a formidable semifinal lineup. Photo /AP

This tournament has already delivered plenty of action, and now it's time to get set for the biggest World Cup semi final round in two decades.

Just look at the teams left in this competition. They are a quartet of truly major footballing powers - Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Netherlands - with ten World Cup triumphs between them (Brazil - five, Germany - three and Argentina - two) and another 11 finals appearances.

It's the first time there has been such a powerful final four line-up since 1990, when England, Italy, West Germany and Argentina were the last nations standing.

Since that time, World Cups have always featured wild card, unfancied semi-finalists.

It started with a Tomas Brolin inspired Sweden in 1994, who beat Saudi Arabia and Romania on the way to the last four. Croatia, in their debut appearance at a World Cup, reached the semi finals four years later in France, their run including a particularly memorable victory over Germany in the last eight.

The 2002 World Cup featured numerous upsets, and saw footballing middleweights South Korea and Turkey advance to within one game of the final. Portugal surprised with their run to the semi-finals in 2006, while Uruguay, propelled by the goals of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, were the Cinderella story last time in South Africa.

Upsets create huge interest - everyone loves a fairytale - but too many can create an imbalanced World Cup, which is why few regard the 2002 tournament, for example, as a particularly special edition.

This one already is and could come to be seen as the best of the modern era. There's something classical when genuine footballing superpowers clash and the climax to this tournament is set up perfectly.

The Selecao, on home soil, against the might of Germany in Belo Horizonte. Then the next day a repeat of the 1978 final (and a memorable 1998 quarter final) with the Dutch out to avenge the dramatic loss in Buenos Aires almost 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, German fans have arrived en masse in Belo Horizonte, with up to 10,000 expected to be in the stadium on Wednesday. They know they are in enemy territory, but the reception has been friendly so far.

"Everyone here has been very welcoming," said one German fan from Stuttgart. "That might change in a few days...but now we will enjoy it."

The Dutch are desperate to lift the title for the first time, but the Germans are equally keen to end what has been a long wait by their standards. They reached three consecutive finals between 1982 and 1990 (winning in 1990) but since then, despite being extremely consistent in the latter stages, have only reached one more final, losing 2-0 to Brazil in 2002.

"We hope this will be our time," said our fan. "I'm going to Rio anyway (for the final) - but I hope it will be for a big German party there."

- By Michael Burgess in Belo Horizonte

- NZ Herald

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