JOHANNESBURG – A week ago, Europe was done, its biggest stars flops, its supremacy in international soccer hijacked by South America.
So much for that.
Europe is back in its traditional power spot at the World Cup, producing three of the four semifinalists and ensuring its streak of having at least one team in the final since 1934 will continue.
All that moaning and groaning that could be heard above the din of the vuvuzelas?
Only six of Europe’s 13 teams making it out of the group stage, compared with all five from South America and two from Asia, which has yet to be mistaken for an international powerhouse? The tantalizing prospect of an all-South American final?
Forget all that. The only outsider remaining is Uruguay, and if it loses to the Netherlands on Tuesday, Europe will be guaranteed its first title in a World Cup held outside the continent. Germany plays Spain in the other semifinal Wednesday.
“What the team showed, it was not only international level, but the level of champions,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said after his squad dismantled Argentina, which had emerged as one of the favorites after winning its first four games with flair and style.
“It was,” Loew added, “absolute class.”
Yes, Europe had its worst showing in the group stage since the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams.
But it probably wouldn’t have looked quite so bad if not for the misadventures of defending World Cup champ Italy and 2006 runner-up France. And, really, was either team’s crashing and burning that big of a surprise?
But that hardly meant all of Europe was on the wane.
Germany, the Netherlands and defending European champion Spain all won their groups, while England finished second to the United States on goals scored.
Granted, England made a quick exit in the second round at the feet of Germany – (but) there’s no shame in losing to the Germans these days.
The three-time champions are in the semifinals for a third straight World Cup. They’ve scored four goals in three of their five games.
And Miroslav Klose is lurking right behind Ronaldo for most goals in World Cup history (15). Only Spain’s David Villa (5) has more goals in South Africa than Klose (4).
Spain’s semifinal with Germany is a game probably better suited for a final. It is, in fact, a rematch of the Euro 2008 final, which Spain won. “The Germans have played a brilliant World Cup so far,” Andres Iniesta said. “We’re also at the top of our game.”
The Dutch haven’t always looked like the Clockwork Oranje, but they are the only team with a perfect record.
Uruguay hasn’t been in the semifinals since 1970, and what better way to declare South America’s burgeoning prominence than by having someone other than traditional powerhouses Brazil and Argentina make the final?
That assumes, however, that Uruguay can get by the Europeans.
And, unlike how it looked just a few days ago, that’s no longer an easy prospect.