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Cup clock turns back towards Europe
- 1982 being played all over again

This all-European semi-final pairing at Fifaís 18th World Cup has been a long time coming.

Two made it through to the last in 2002 and three in 1998, 1994, 1990 and 1986. Now the World Cup clock has been turned back for a geographical repeat of 1982 when Germany, France, Italy and Poland thumbed their noses at the other traditional power centre of South America.

Germany is there again, so is France, so is Italy. Instead of Poland we have its alphabetical pursuer, Portugal. All worthy but all representative of the evening-up movement in international football. Germany and Portugal needed penalties, France won by one single goal and Italy beat rank outsiders, new boys at the party.

The long days between the conclusion of the quarters and the start of the semis ' with Germany vs Italy in the footballing bearpit of Dortmund ' are a time of balance. A time to celebrate the teams going forward and cast a critical eye on the might-have-beens or even, in the case of Argentina, Brazil and England, the should-have-beens.

Argentina, in the first round, played the most imaginative football of the finals in its 6-0 demolition of Serbia. How ironic that the scorer of the finest goal, Esteban Cambiasso, should have been the man whose penalty failure unleashed German joy and Argentine angst.

Jose Pekerman, the Argentine coach, had only himself to blame. He took off Juan Roman Riquelme with 15 minutes to go, believing he could kill the game. Against Germany' A high-risk gamble at any time. Against this Germany built in the image of Juergen Klinsmann' Footballing suicide.

Many games turn on single, decisive moments. For England it was the expulsion of Wayne Rooney for treading, eye-wateringly, on Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho. Yet already it was clear: Portugal was the better-balanced team, playing the more creative football despite the absence of two key players in the suspended Deco and Costinha.

Englandís departing coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson, doubtless hopes never to see Luiz Felipe Scolari in the opposition again. Englandís last three tournament defeats have all been in quarter-finals, all against ďBig PhilĒ ' in World Cup, European Championship and World Cup again.

As for Englandís failed players, so for those of Brazil.

Admirers of the Premiership and the Champions League should examine critically those competitions and their heroes: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Rooney, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho and Adriano. Are these honestly the superstars they had been portrayed as or are they as much products of the marketing hype as the English and European club tournaments themselves'

Not that the rest of the World Cup cares now.

Some of the great battles of football history are being refought over the next few days.

Germany and Italy met in the 1982 World Cup Final in Madrid, the last time Italy won the ultimate prize. The Germans had come off the back of a dramatic but strength-sapping shootout win; then France, this time Argentina. Italy had come off a comfortable dusting away of East Europeans; then Poland, now Ukraine. Then Italy was the narrow favourite; this time, in the first semi in Dortmund, itís the Germansí turn.

France and Portugal met in the 2000 European semi-final in Brussels, the last time France won anything. The French snatched it with a last-minute golden goal penalty by Zinedine Zidane and the Portuguese players lost their heads. The French were clear favourites; this time, in the second semi in Munich, it can swing either way.

Do not expect goal fests. If there is anything worse than losing in the final, it is losing in the semi-final. To lose a final means at least that you shared, played your part, in the great occasion; to lose a semi-final means being turned back at the gate of sporting history.

This is a fate none of the players of the four sides dares contemplate. So much pride and passion is at stake.

After all, this is not merely a football family affair but a double match-up with enough overt political significance to make Fifa shudder: itís the week the European Union takes over the World Cup.

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