Armchair Pundit

And the winner is…

Alex Chick

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Predictions are a mug's game, which is why I have steered clear of all but the most obvious - like 'England will not win the World Cup'.

But with four teams and four games remaining, it's time to stick my neck on the line and try to pick a winner.


For all the late drama, Uruguay were the better side against Ghana in their quarter-final and on the balance of play probably deserved to go through.

Their coach Oscar Tabarez will have two priorities - firstly to stop Arjen Robben, as Brazil largely did simply by double-teaming him every time he threatened to cut inside from the right onto his left foot.

Secondly, he needs his talismanic forward Diego Forlan to create trouble for a potentially shaky Dutch back line that has not yet been tested to the full in this tournament.

But the semi-finals could be a bridge too far for a team with Luis Suarez and Jorge Fucile suspended, and captain Diego Lugano hampered by a knee injury.

Prediction: Fourth


Clearly the team of the tournament so far. In many ways, playing Spain will suit them. They won't mind letting their opponents dominate possession, and they have the bodies in midfield to stifle Xavi, Iniesta and company. But...

My theory about Germany is that they are fantastic front-runners. Once they go ahead, they are organised enough to soak up the pressure and then fly forward on the counter-attack with devastating effectiveness.

Against both England and Argentina, they looked absolutely fantastic when picking off opponents who were chasing the game and committing too many players forward.

But when they trail, as they did against Serbia, they are not so hot. In that game, they struggled to break down their opponents, although they would have got a point if not for Lukas Podolski's penalty miss. If Spain maintain their discipline they could make life hard.

Prediction: Third


It has been smooth sailing so far for Bert van Marwijk's side - either they are extremely good, or their opponents have made their life easy.

The quarter-final was a case in point: did they beat Brazil, or did Dunga's side hand it to them with some dreadful defending and Felipe Melo's staggering indiscipline?

Robinho's opening goal in that game showed they have a soft defensive underbelly that can be exposed, although Joris Mathijsen is now back.

That's not to underestimate Holland. In Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, they have two of the few big name players to actually turn up to this World Cup, while Mark van Bommel has been a colossus in midfield.

Prediction: Runners-up


We don't yet know what formation Vicente Del Bosque will go for, but it may just be that Cesc Fabregas has offered the Spain coach a way out of a problem.

The Arsenal skipper made a tremendous difference against Paraguay when he replaced Fernando Torres, who disappointed yet again, and could prompt the coach to change his system. Del Bosque has publicly supported Torres, but a World Cup semi-final is not the time to ease a player into form.

If it were me, I would go for what may very well be the Barcelona front six come August: Sergio Busquets anchoring midfield behind Xavi and Fabregas, then Iniesta and Pedro either side of lone striker David Villa.

But I'm not coach of Spain. Del Bosque is. He has the best players left in the tournament. Does he have the best team? I say he does. And not just because I have money riding on them.

Prediction: Winners

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Tuesday preview

Uruguay v Netherlands - Cape Town - 19.30

Having decided that neither of these teams has any chance of winning the World Cup. let's look at the first semi-final. Both teams have key players suspended and will be shuffling their deck. Luis Suarez's handball, described by coach Oscar Tabarez as "The hand of God and the Virgin Mary" means he is suspended. Most likely Edinson Cavani will shift from the left to a conventional forward role, with Alvaro Pereira coming into midfield. Left-back Jorge Fucile is also suspended, with Martin Caceres deputising. Captain Diego Lugano is a major doubt with a knee injury. He will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness, but Diego Godin is expected to play in his stead.

The Dutch have defensive midfield terrier Nigel De Jong suspended, and Demy De Zeeuw is expected to he handed ankle-biting duties. He will have a busy evening shackling the roaming Diego Forlan. Impressive right-back Gregory van der Wiel picked up his second booking of the tournament against Brazil and sits this one out - Khalid Boulahrouz should come in. The good news for coach Van Marwijk is that Joris Mathisen is back, having injured himself in the warm-up before the quarter-final. Veteran Andre Ooijer looked a somewhat shaky replacement. The yellow cards amnesty is now in effect, so players cannot miss the final through totting up bookings.

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Water-cooler chat: Uruguay coach slams English press

Oscar Tabarez lost his rag at yesterday's press conference, blaming the English media in particular for trying to create a scandal over Luis Suarez's handball against Ghana.

Four days on the controversy still simmers, but those demonising Suarez have missed one crucial point:

There is a difference between foul play and cheating.

As Tabarez said, handling a goalbound shot "is covered by the rules". Obviously it is not allowed, but there is a clear punishment for that specific offence, and the referee enforced it. End of story.

You might say Suarez was cynical, that a man imbued with Corinthian spirit would have withdrawn his hands and let the ball whistle into the net. Not that his team-mates would have thanked him for his generosity.

You might also say the law is wrong - I have argued for the introduction of a penalty goal - but that is a conversation for another day.

As the ball came towards him, Suarez knew the rules, and took the only logical course of action to give his country a chance of staying in the World Cup.

Cheating is something different. Cheating is a deliberate attempt to deceive the referee, to go outside the rules and gain an unfair advantage.

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