By Dave Johnson
With hundreds of millions around the world watching, Germanys Thomas Muller winked to the television cameras during the German national anthem just before Saturdays quarterfinal match against Argentina. Muller displayed a confidence that is perfectly understandable.
World Cup South Africa 2010 has reached the semi-final stage and Germany is the team to beat. It was Mueller who opened the scoring with his header in Germanys 4-0 annihilation of Argentina and set the stage for a German clinic.
Germany is quicker, stronger, and faster than they were four years ago when eventual champion Italy tripped them up and ended the dream for the host nation to win the World Cup. Still Germanys success this year stems, not only from their experience from 2006, but from a decade of player development.
Germanys traditional organization and discipline is still very much on display, but this is also a German team that plays with more flair and confidence on the ball. In three games at this World Cup Germany has scored four goals and is the first team to do that since the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
This is a German team that has been brought to life with younger players like Muller and Jerome Boating and led by veterans like Sebastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, and Lucas Podolski. Of those veterans Klose is 32 years old, but Schweinsteiger and Podolski-at 25 years of age-are very much in their prime.
Germanys coach Joachim Loew has carried on what Jurgen Klinsmann started when he guided the national team through the last World Cup. It is a German team that approaches the tension of the World Cup with a refreshing spirit and ability to seize the moment even with Michael Ballack sidelined by injury.
With Spain as a semi-final opponent, it won't be easy for Germany to reach the final. For years Spain always delighted with their style of play but failed to do enough to win a major tournament. That changed with Spain winning Euro 2008, but it has not eased doubts.
Again at this years World Cup Spain has been both appealing and frustrating to watch. La Furia Roja have shown the vision to create and the ability to maintain possession but have too often failed to connect at the critical moment.
The result is Spain, while successful, has stuttered through this tournament. Switzerland beat Spain in the group stage and on Saturday in the quarterfinals a steely nerved Paraguay almost pulled off the upset.
Spains patience and composure prevailed in the 1-0 over Paraguay, and those traits will be well served against Germany. David Villa and Andres Iniesta have sparkled for Spain while Iker Casillas has been a rock in goal, but the wait continues for Fernando Torres to get the proper service and to get involved.
The last South American team standing in the final four is not Brazil or Argentina, but Uruguay. History buffs know Uruguay won the first World Cup as the host nation in 1930 and then won another title in 1950.
Though Uruguay was not supposed to make this much noise at the World Cup, they've found a way to navigate through the tournament. Uruguay started Frances World Cup of woe in a 0-0 draw and then crushed the hopes of Africa with Fridays elimination of Ghana.
In the penalty kick victory over Ghana, Uruguay lost Luis Suarez to a red card. It was the price for Suarez swatting away a sure Ghana goal in the closing seconds. Against South Korea, Suarez provided one of the goals of the tournament and his creativity and bite in the final third will be hard to replace in the semi-final against Netherlands.
While Suarez, who plays in the Netherlands at Ajax, will not be available, Uruguay still has Diego Forlan. Forlan, who plays at Atletico Madrid, has only furthered his reputation as a dangerous offensive threat and could provide the magic on a set piece to see Uruguay through.
A Uruguay victory over the Netherlands would save South America and provide a Cinderella story, but it is not likely to happen. Timing can be everything and it would appear that the Netherlands is peaking at the right time.
At this World Cup the Dutch have yet to lose but their start was less than convincing in a 2-0 win over Denmark. Since then the quality of the Dutch players including Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie has come to light and in goal Maarten Stekelenburg has been nothing short of spectacular.
So there is every reason to believe we are headed for an all European-final between Germany and the Netherlands. It would be a positive punctuation mark on a tournament that has truly come to life in the in the knockout rounds.