Uruguay were clubbed with former world champions and 2006 World Cup finalists France, hosts South Africa and North Americans of Mexico in Group A. The South Americans were expected to find it tough to get past the group stage and indeed their opening game promised to be anything but easy.
Uruguay were up against France and although the game ended 0-0, it did, however, nothing to indicate that La Celeste would go on an amazing run of wins thereafter. It was an insipid affair punctuated by only occasional high moments.
In their next match, however, Oscar Tabarez's side showed their attacking potent as they crushed South Africa 3-0. Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan opened the scoring for Uruguay midway through the first half and made it 2-0 to the South Americans in the 80th minute from spot. In the dying seconds of the game, Alvaro Pereira scored Uruguay's third.
Uruguay continued their winning run as they got the better of Mexico in their final Group A fixture. A Luis Suarez header just two minutes before half time was enough for La Celeste to win the group and set up a match with Asian giants South Korea in the second round.
Uruguay got off to a flying start against the 2002 World Cup semifinalists in their last 16 encounter when Luis Suarez opened the scoring. However, Lee Chung-Yong restored parity midway through the second session. But with ten minutes of normal time remaining, Suarez struck once again to steer his team to the quarterfinals.
The whole of Africa was supporting Ghana in what was only the third appearance of an African team in the World Cup quarterfinals as Uruguay clashed with the Black Stars. Indeed, Ghana went ahead on the stroke of half time through Sulley Muntari, but ten minutes into the restart star striker Diego Forlan scored with a brilliant freekick. The hugely exciting match went into extra-time, but as the game was winding down to a close, and a penalty shootout looked inevitable, controversy reared its ugly head.
A last-minute extra-time freekick from outside the area was floated into the Uruguay penalty box and Dominic Adiyiah's eventually headed the ball towards the goal. It was going straight into the net but then striker Luis Suarez palmed the ball off the goalline.
The Ajax hitman was sent off and Asamoah Gyan took the spot-kick. However, the Ghana striker hit the crossbar and the match went into a penalty shootout, which Uruguay won 5-3, with Sebastian Abreu hitting the winning kick.
The Netherlands were placed in Group E alongside African giants Cameroon, fellow Europeans Denmark and Asian powerhouse Japan. The Oranje had looked the most impressive and entertaining team in the build-up to the World Cup finals as they had played some scintillating football and had scored goals with ease. However, their display in the group games was not really 'Total Football'.
Bert van Marwijk's side commenced their World Cup campaign by defeating Denmark 2-0. It wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring performance, but it was quite an effective one. A Daniel Agger own goal a minute into the second half put the Dutch on the road to a victory and then with five minutes left on the clock, Dirk Kuyt found the Danish net to make it 2-0.
The Oranje scored a goal less against Japan in their second match but still collected maximum points. A Wesley Sneijder deflected strike was enough for the Netherlands to defeat the Asian giants. Against Cameroon in their final match, the Netherlands scored twice, first through Robin van Persie in the first period and then through Klaas-Jan Huntelaar late in the match.
The Dutch won Group E and were pitted against World Cup debutants Slovakia in the second round. In what was a relatively easy win for the Oranje, they scored through Arjen Robben in the 18th minute and Wesley Sneijder six minutes from full time. An injury time penalty from Robert Vittek wasn't anything other than a consolation for the Slovaks.
The Netherlands were then up against the mighty Brazil in the quarterfinals and were expected by many observers to lose. Indeed, after Felipe Melo sliced open the Dutch defence to send Robinho to score as early as the tenth minute, it appeared that the former World Cup finalists were in for a hammering.
However, Bert van Marwijk's side improved marvelously in the second half and equalised through Wesley Sneijder on 53 minutes. Midway through the second half the Inter midfielder scored yet again to put the Oranje 2-1 up. Minutes later Melo was sent off for Brazil and the Dutch marched on to the semifinals.
Germany were placed in Group D alongside AFC side Australia, fellow Europeans Serbia and African hopefuls Ghana. The 2006 World Cup semifinalists ran over Australia 4-0 in their opening match in what was arguably the best performance in the first round of matches in the group stage.
Lukas Podolski opening the scoring for Die Mannschaft on eight minutes and then four minutes from the half hour mark Miroslav Klose made it 2-0. Australian striker Tim Cahill was given his marching orders ten minutes into the second session and thereafter the Germans crushed the Aussies. Thomas Mueller found the target on 67 minutes and three minutes later Brazil-born Cacau made it 4-0.
Joachim Loew's side, however, collapsed in their second game against Serbia as they lost 1-0. Klose was sent off ten minutes before half time and a couple of minutes later Milan Jovanovic gave the Eastern Europeans the lead. Podolski had a great chance to rescue a point for 10-man Germany when he stepped up to take the spotkick on the hour mark but the former Bayern Munich striker failed to find the target.
Germany returned to winning ways in their next group match when they won 1-0 against Ghana. Mesut Oezil, who has been one of the most impressive players in the World Cup, scored his first goal of the competition.
Die Mannschaft confronted old rivals England in the second round and destroyed the Three Lions. Two goals from Klose and Podolski in the space of 12 minutes saw Germany take a 2-0 lead in the 32nd minute but England halved the deficit five minutes later when Matthew Upson headed the ball home.
However, moments later Frank Lampard struck the ball from outside the Germany penalty area and the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, crossed the goalline and bounced out. The officials failed to see that the ball had crossed the line and disallowed the goal.
Nevertheless, England were clearly the second best side in the second 45 minutes as Germany ripped apart Fabio Capello's team. Thomas Mueller scored his side's third on 67 minutes and added a fourth just three minutes later to knock out England in a humiliating fashion.
Next up were Argentina in the quarterfinals and again Germany scored four goals. Loew's side went ahead as early as the third minute, thanks to a Mueller header. Second half goals from the Arne Friedrich and a brace from Klose secured yet another scintillating and comprehensive victory for the Germans.
European champions Spain found themselves taking on fellow Europeans Switzerland, South American sensation Chile and central American minnows Honduras in Group H. La Furia Roja commenced their World Cup campaign against Switzerland and were overwhelming favourites to garner maximum points from this fixture. However, they suffered a shock defeat as they went down 1-0, thanks to a 52nd minute goal from Gelson Fernandes.
Nevertheless, the World Cup favourites returned to winning ways against Honduras in their next group game. David Villa broke the ice on 17 minutes with one of the goals of the tournament and then made it 2-0 six minutes into the second half. The newly signed Barcelona striker had a great chance to score his hat-trick two minutes after the hour mark with a penalty but failed to hit the target.
Villa was once again Spain's saviour in their final group game against Chile when he scored La Roja's opener midway through the second half with another sensational strike; he then set up Andres Iniesta's second on 37 minutes. Rodrigo Millar reduced the deficit early in the second session for Chile, who had gone a man down in the first half after Marco Estrada was given his marching orders, but Vicente del Bosque's side held on for a win.
Spain won Group H and were pitted against Group G runners-up Portugal in the second round. It wasn't expected to be easy fixture for the Spaniards and indeed it took yet another David Villa goal to bag the win. This time the former Valencia striker, acknowledged by some as the most complete centre-forward on the planet, found the target three minutes after the hour mark.
Up next were a defensive-minded Paraguay in the quarterfinals and Spain found it extremely difficult to fight them in the first 45 minutes. Again, it needed a Villa touch to push Spain through to the next round - the 28-year-old scored from inside the area off a rebound on 83 minutes.
As a matter of fact, the match had spurred into life a minute before the hour mark when Oscar Cardoza's penalty was saved by Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Then the Europeans were given a spotkick a couple of minutes later. Xabi Alonso converted it successfully but was asked to retake it, but in his second attempt the Real Madrid midfielder failed.
Nevertheless, Spain won 1-0 and qualified for final four for the first time since the 1950 World Cup finals.
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