German side peaking at right time

Uruguay last hope for South American title

JOHANNESBURG – Germany is the team to beat as the World Cup comes down to four contenders, with Spain, the Netherlands and Uruguay looking for a way to beat a German team that has peaked at just the right time.

With 13 goals in five games, Germany has sent home Argentina and England with ease, scoring four goals each time. The three other semifinalists have been less impressive.

At the end of the first round, South American teams were set to dominate the competition. Only Uruguay remains, with favorite Brazil falling to the well-organized Dutch.

Uruguay meets the Netherlands on Tuesday and European champion Spain faces three-time World Cup winner Germany on Wednesday for places in the final.

The Europeans and South Americans stand at 9-9 after 18 World Cups, so one of them is guaranteed to edge ahead in Sunday’s final at Soccer City. No European team has won a World Cup staged outside the continent.

On current form, that final looks like a Netherlands-Germany matchup, a meeting of two neighbors who also played in the 1974 title game when the Germans won on home soil.

Germany outplayed Argentina 4-0 in Cape Town on Saturday with Miroslav Klose scoring twice to take his total from three World Cups to 14 goals. He has two more games to beat the career record of 15 by Brazil’s Ronaldo.

The Germans, who have not won the title since 1990, also got four goals against Australia and England. They are looking ominously good.

“What the team showed, it was not only international level, but the level of champions,” coach Joachim Loew said after Germany knocked out one of the tournament favorites. “It was absolute class.”

Spain, by contrast, has stumbled on its way to the final four, edging Paraguay 1-0 in the quarterfinal on Saturday after both teams missed penalty kicks.

“A rival like Germany works better for us than one like we had in Paraguay,” said David Villa, who is one shy of matching Raul Gonzalez’s national record of 44 international goals.

The Spaniards lost their opening game to Switzerland. Though little has changed from the squad that won Euro 2008 so convincingly, Vicente del Bosque’s team bears slight resemblance to that lineup.

With Fernando Torres slow to recover from knee surgery and Xavi struggling to recapture his high standards, Villa has done the heavy lifting. If the Spaniards can’t lift their game in the semifinal, the Germans look like a good bet to go through to a record eighth final.

Uruguay – a 100-1 shot when the tournament began – is left to take the title back to South America, a tough task indeed.

The Dutch take on Uruguay in Cape Town in what will feel like a home game.

On top of the 5,000 or so Dutch fans who have traveled to the World Cup, there are 20,000 compatriots who have settled in the coastal city over the years.

“We hear the euphoria back home is incredible and it’s a shame that we cannot experience it,” said Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, whose team knocked out five-time champion Brazil 2-1 on Friday.

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