JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AFP) — The first of three World Cup last-eight collisions between South America and Europe pits Brazil against The Netherlands in a Port Elizabeth blockbuster today.
And Ghana, sole survivors in the tournament from outside the two most powerful football regions, face Uruguay later hoping to become the first semi-finalists from Africa.
There can be few more attractive casts than Maicon, Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano of Brazil against Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie of Netherlands.
This is round four in a great World Cup rivalry with Brazil winning the previous two after the Johan Cruyff-inspired Dutch won 36 years ago with its revolutionary ‘total’ football.
While the South Americans are favoured to win in the coastal Eastern Cape city, many pundits consider the Dutch capable of tossing aside the ‘nearly men’ tag they have worn since the 1970s after finishing runners-up twice.
Chasing a record sixth title, Brazil have been efficient rather than exhilarating in victories over North Korea, Ivory Coast and Chile and a stalemate with Portugal.
Positives include the form of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, a defence marshalled by captain Lucio and some razor sharp finishing with three-goal Luis Fabiano a prime exponent.
But Real Madrid ‘galactico’ Kaka has yet to stamp his authority on midfield, collecting three yellow cards and one red while worrying coach Dunga by failing to score in three outings.
The Dutch have also been methodical rather than magical, defeating Denmark, Japan, Cameroon and Slovakia without setting any prairies on fire, and there is a sense they can scale greater heights.
Although Ghana will lack suspended centreback Jonathan Mensah and midfielder Andre Ayew, coach Milovan Rajevac is confident all his ‘walking wounded’ will be fit for Soccer City combat.
After the other five African challengers failed to pass the first round in the first World Cup staged by the continent, there is a huge weight of expectation on the Black Stars’ shoulders.
They have proved dogged cup fighters when overcoming Serbia and the United States, drawing with Australia and losing narrowly to Germany with three-goal Asamoah Gyan creating headlines.
Although Uruguay were the least impressive of the five South American sides to reach South Africa, needing a play-off against Costa Rica to qualify, they have grown in stature and will be slight favourites.
Pre-tournament concerns that they were too reliant on striker-cum-midfielder Diego Forlan have proved unfounded with Luis Suarez emerging as a clinical finisher in a team packed with technically gifted footballers.
Ghana will have the backing of most in a sell-out 85,000 crowd, an unwavering belief they can go further than Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal eight years ago, and a master tactician in media-shy Rajevac.
Argentina tackle Germany on Saturday in another potential blockbuster at Cape Town Stadium followed by European champions Spain against goal-shy Paraguay in a Johannesburg clash that probably offers Europe its best chance of a semi-final spot.