At the last 16 stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the South American teams seemed set to dominate the tournament. All the five nations from South America were in, and four of them (with Chile losing out to fellow South American Brazil) qualified for the quarterfinals. But things changed dramatically at this stage. Perennial favourite Brazil was outplayed by the Netherlands and the Seleção's principal rival from the same continent, Argentina, was routed by Germany. With Paraguay edged out by David Villa and Spain, only Uruguay from among the four qualified for the semi-finals. Europeans have never done well outside Europe but Africa is neutral territory. Uruguay is a winner of two World Cups but its triumphs came in 1930 and 1950, far removed from the world of football as we know it. The lone surviving South American team, which is in its first semi-final since 1970, is not exactly the favourite to win the title. For the first time, the World Cup should see a European team win outside its own continent. Brazil is the only team to have done that — in Sweden in 1958 and in Korea/Japan in 2002. Africa's hopes ended with Ghana, which lost tragically in a shoot-out to Uruguay after failing to convert an extra-time penalty kick.

Spain, who started out as the co-favourite with Brazil, now meets Germany, whose youngsters, especially Thomas Mueller and Mesut Oezil, have combined magnificently with veterans from the previous World Cup, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, to produce a flood of goals. Spain's possession football with a slow build-up towards attacking positions could more than meet its match in Germany's counter-attacking football that overruns rival defences. For Spain, striker Fernando Torres seems hopelessly out of form, but so long as Villa compensates with his purposive strides and accurate finishing, the Spaniards have the firepower to live up to their top billing. Both Germany and Spain had to overcome group-stage hiccups but have been in control in the knock-out games, overwhelming opponents in contrasting styles. The Netherlands is the only team to have won all its matches, that too in regulation time. Wesley Seneijder, now in the form of his life, is, along with Klose and Villa, in contention for the Golden Boot. Uruguay must count itself fortunate to get into this charmed circle but there is no question that the other three teams have been head and feet above the rest of the competition. Germany, with its combination of precise, fluid attack, formidable defence, and flair, is deservedly the bookmakers' favourite. Everything is set for an intriguing last four — and a rousing finale that was not quite part of the script.

More In: Editorial | Opinion