Dutch warned, Dunga axed, Maradona praised

JOHANNESBURG, July 5, 2010 (AFP) - Favourites Netherlands were warned not to underestimate Uruguay ahead of a World Cup semi-final on Tuesday while Brazil axed coach Dunga and fans of fellow flops Argentina want Diego Maradona to stay.

Legend Franz Beckenbauer hailed Germany as a "perfect team" while semi-final opponents Spain heard centreback Carles Puyol and reserve midfielder Cesc Fabregas are fit for the other semi-final in Durban on Wednesday.

As the tournament entered the final straight in South Africa leading to the July 11 Johannesburg climax, sell-out crowds braced for individual showdowns set to enthrall them and multi-million international television audiences.

Dutch duo Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben come face to face with Uruguayan star Diego Forlan while goal kings David Villa of Spain and Miroslav Klose of Germany square off in another spicy cameo.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk has begged his players to keep their feet on the ground and ignore the hype as they carry the tag of firm favourites into a showdown with injury and suspension-hit Uruguay.

"It will be a very dangerous match. The euphoria at home is massive and maybe it is good that we are so far away and cannot witness it because we really need to focus on Uruguay."

Veteran Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez countered: "We are among the four best teams at this World Cup. This is something we would never have imagined before coming to South Africa. My players are united."

Uruguay are handicapped by the loss of striker Luis Suarez, barred after his red card for a deliberate goal-line handball that prevented Ghana becoming the first semi-finalists from Africa.

Defender Jorge Fucile is also suspended and captain and defender Diego Lugano and midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro are injury doubts, heaping ever more pressure on graceful workaholic Forlan.

Netherlands defender Gregory van der Wiel and midfielder Nigel de Jong miss out after picking up second yellow cards of the tournament in the come-from-behind triumph over Brazil.

Hard-to-please Beckenbauer said the Germans will be favoured to defeat Spain in a repeat of the Euro 2008 final settled by a Fernando Torres goal.

"This team, it is the masterpiece of Joachim Loew. He has placed his mark on its make-up and created a perfect team," the World Cup winner as a player and a coach told the national football federation website.

"I have rarely seen such mastery of the game from a German team. Perhaps only in the 1970s and the World Cup-winning team of 1990," he said after the 4-0 quarter-final rout of Argentina.

"In the past we would say that you had to leave the beautiful game in the dressingroom, but this team shows that it is not a contradiction and that you can play well and win."

Luiz Felipe Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 title, was tipped to replace Dunga, who must have known his four-year reign was over when the final whistle blew in Port Elizabeth last Friday and the Dutch celebrated.

Scolari reportedly heads a five-man 'wish list' including Mano Menezes of Corinthians, Muricy Ramalho of Fluminense, Ricardo Gomes of Sao Paulo and former AC Milan handler and 1994 World Cup winner Leonardo.

Brazilian players were insulted, pushed and shoved by angry fans when they arrived in Rio de Janeiro amid a welter of recriminations for the poor showing by the record five-time champions.

But there was a warm welcome for Maradona and Argentina from thousands of supporters who turned out to greet them despite the humiliating quarter-final exit.

Argentine national soccer team supporters surround the bus which brings the players upon their arrival at Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, on July 4, 2010. AFP

Fans dressed in the blue and white shirts of the national team held aloft banners proclaiming "Argentina!", "Diego, Diego" and "Diego, stay! We support you!"

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