JOHANNESBURG - South America’s sole survivor Uruguay stole the limelight on Sunday in their quest to surpass Europe’s three World Cup semifinalists and lift the trophy for the first time since 1950.
The tournament was taking a two-day break in matches.
Yet there was no rest for Uruguay, Netherlands, Germany and Spain who trained, nursed injuries and studied tactics hoping for glory in a week’s time at Soccer City stadium.
With South American big guns and media favourites Argentina and Brazil gone, several hundred journalists packed into a Johannesburg hotel to catch a word with Uruguay’s players. They looked taken aback by all the fuss after a practice session.
“We know we are representing our continent,” striker Edinson Cavani said, as journalists almost came to blows and had to be corralled by police in a chaotic crush to hear the Uruguayans.
“It is a responsibility, but it is also a huge source of pride. We believe we can do it for Uruguay, for South America.”
Uruguay’s joy at being in a semi-final for the first time in 40 years is tempered by the knowledge they face a dangerous Dutch side on Tuesday minus some important faces.
Uuruguay’s in-form striker Luis Suarez is serving a ban for his controversial match-saving handball on the line against Ghana, while inspirational captain Diego Lugano said he may not be able to shake off a knee injury in time.
Uruguay’s defender Jorge Fucile is also serving a suspension while midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro is out with a foot fracture.
Repeating their predecessors’ 1930 or 1950 wins will be an extremely tall order for Uruguay, but belief is with them.
“History drives us on,” said long-haired and lanky striker Sebastian Abreu, nicknamed “El Loco””(The Crazy One) by fans.
Netherlands, too, feel the weight of history, knowing brilliant past sides have all failed to land the big one.
They know they should win but are not complacent.
“This is a very dangerous game, they are fighters and we have to be very focused,” Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said of Uruguay’s “La Celeste.”
For many of the 28 teams knocked out of the World Cup, there have been immediate repercussions including changes in coaches and even political inquiries in some countries.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan responded to the miserable performance of the “Super Eagles””by suspending the team from international competition — but world soccer body FIFA has ordered him to rescind that by Monday.
Seeking to ward off suspension from FIFA, Nigeria’s football association said on Sunday it had sacked its top two officials and apologised for the team’s poor showing in South Africa.
“We wish to passionately appeal to the president to reconsider the earlier decision,” it said.
Germany were on a high after their 4-0 quarter-final thrashing of Argentina, which was even more impressive than their earlier 4-1 drubbing of another old rival, England.
Germany’s hard-to-impress media were in raptures.
“Thanks, you heroes!” said Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Joachim Loew’s young and attack-minded team face Spain in Durban, hoping to avenge their defeat in the Euro 2008 final.
Germany will have to make do without suspended striker Thomas Mueller but have depth in their squad and stick to a well-drilled style of play no matter who is in the team.
“We have players who can replace Thomas and we will manage that,” Loew said. “I want players who can apply my tactics and vision of football, what I want to see on the pitch, and this is how I select them.”
David Villa is the tournament’s top scorer after his late winner for Spain against Paraguay. He and team mates know they will have to play better against the rampant Germans.
“We have time now to put the work in to get to the final,” Villa said. “The team is still alive.”
South Africa’s authorities urged locals to keep the World Cup spirit alive in its final week by flying flags and blowing their vuvuzelas. Yet without any African teams left, and 28 of the 32 teams out, the atmosphere was dropping a notch.
“The World Cup is nearly over. I am so sad,” said a tournament volunteer, sweeping litter outside Johannesburg’s Soccer City where the final will be played on July 11.
“Just one more big party left.”