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Europe dominates South America in Cup

By Steve Rushin, Special to CNN
  • Steve Rushin: Cup winners for 80 years have come from South America or Europe
  • This year South America seemed strong, he says; Brazil and Argentina powerhouses
  • But Dutch beat Brazil; Germany beat Argentina; Spain in final 4
  • Tuesday, Dutch beat Uruguay, the only South American team left standing

Editor's note: Steve Rushin, a former Sports Illustrated writer, is the author of a new novel, "The Pint Man," published by Doubleday. Visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Hartford, Connecticut (CNN) -- If the World Cup were contested among continents instead of countries, the tournament would have had only two winners in its 80-year history: South America and Europe. And now that the Netherlands beat Uruguay, the only South American team left standing in the final four, Europe has emerged victorious.

This year, all the signs in the host country said "SOUTH AFRICA 2010." But for most of June, some graffiti artist painted an ME over the F on each of those banners, for what we were witnessing at the beginning was, in essence, SOUTH AMERICA 2010.

South America dominated from the opening kickoff concert, headlined by Shakira, the pop star from Colombia. Even before that, staring vacantly from the covers of countless previews, was the World's Best Player, Lionel Messi of Argentina. And even before that, five-time champion Brazil was expected to do what the Brazilians always do. Like Lance Armstrong, they wear yellow shirts and crush Europeans.

For three weeks, Argentina's manager-mascot, Diego Maradona -- rosary wrapped around his fist, like brass knuckles -- strode the touchline like a sub-compact colossus. Refulgent in his shiny suit and diamond earrings, his black-and-white beard ablaze, Maradona carried off soccer balls and very nearly the entire show before his team came up against Germany in the quarterfinals.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the semis: Netherlands came from behind ... to beat Brazil.
--Steve Rushin
Video: Uruguay falls
Video: Dutch defeat Uruguay, head to finals
Video: Connector of the Day: Ruud Gullit
Video: Behind the scenes at World Cup
  • FIFA World Cup
  • Diego Maradona
  • Brazil
  • Uruguay
  • Netherlands

Steve McManaman, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder turned ESPN analyst, spoke for many viewers when he said before that match: "I want to see the little lunatic, Maradona, running up and down the touchline, so I've got him to beat the German team on his own."

As recently as those quarterfinals, there was the real possibility that all four teams in the semis would be from South America, winners of nine World Cups.

Europe, winners of the other nine, might be shut out of this rubber match. Past champions France, Italy and England had crashed out early to varying degrees of domestic condemnation: Calamité (the French), cataclisma (the Italians), catastrophe (the English).

But a funny thing happened on the way to the semis: Netherlands came from behind in the second half to beat Brazil. Then the rest of Europe did the same, coming from behind in the second half of the World Cup to assert its dominance over South America, most emphatically when Argentina lost 4-0 to the free-scoring Germans, who suddenly seem to be the new Brazil, soccer's latest thing, its -- how's this for etymological irony? -- bossa nova.

And Spain beat Paraguay. As a result, the only South American team in the final four was two-time champion Uruguay. And even then, the most effective Uruguayan at the tournament was a referee. England's Frank Lampard scored an obvious goal against Germany, but play was waved on by Uruguayan ref Jorge Larrionda. In missing the goal, Larrionda almost certainly ushered in a long-overdue era of instant replay or other goal-line technology to assist officials.

As for the Uruguay team, it needed a miracle to beat Ghana in one of the most improbable finishes to a sporting event we will see in this century. Asamoah Gyan's penalty kick on the final play of the game rocketed off the crossbar to spare South America one spot in the semifinals among three elite European teams: Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

But Tuesday, time was up for Uruguay. It lost to the Dutch 3-2, helping the Netherlands make its first World Cup title match since 1978.

No matter. South America has already secured a World Cup trophy in 2010. The other day at the airport in Bogota, Colombia officials seized a gold-painted replica of the famous Jules Rimet trophy. It was made entirely of cocaine.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steve Rushin.