Ragtag quartet puts poster boys in their place
Inspiration for the World Cup semi-finalists has come from the unfashionable, the forgotten, the overshadowed and the discarded -- a ragtag quartet putting the pre-tournament poster boys in their place.
Miroslav Klose of Germany, Uruguay's Diego Forlan, Spain's David Villa and Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch have become the unlikely heroes at a tournament that has refused to follow the script envisaged by marketing executives worldwide.
All four players are established internationals with enviable track records but they did not create the buzz associated with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and the rest heading into South Africa.
Klose came into the tournament after a dreadful season at Bayern Munich, while Forlan was written off as a force at the highest level after a sorry spell at Manchester United earlier in his career.
Villa, despite his extraordinary scoring record for Spain, was living in the shadow of strike partner Fernando Torres and Sneijder, cast off by Real Madrid, found that even as a Champions League winner with Inter Milan the world was more interested in Arjen Robben.
Image: David Villa celebrates a goal
Klose has been spectacular
The four are now the centre of attention after driving their teams into the World Cup semi-finals with qualities more beloved by coaches and fans than marketing departments.
Klose's two goals in Germany's 4-0 win over Argentina in the quarter-finals made it four in South Africa and took his Word Cup total in three tournaments to 14 -- one shy of the record held by Ronaldo.
Klose managed just three league goals in total for Bayern last season and few expected him to make an impact in South Africa yet a well taken goal in the 4-0 win over Australia immediately vindicated the faith Joachim Loew has maintained.
Image: Miroslav Klose
Villa is top-scorer of the tournament
Germany's hopes of an eighth World Cup final appearance rest on them avenging their defeat in the Euro 2008 final and finding a way to beat Spain.
The only realistic way of doing that will be to keep the ball away from Villa, the tournament's top scorer who has dragged Spain this far almost single-handedly.
Villa has scored five of Spain's six goals, demonstrating an ability to conjure something out of nothing that marks him out as one of the game's great talents.
His ability was no secret yet the media obsession with Torres, who scored the winner in the final of Euro 2008, meant he often went overlooked in the list of those most likely to shine.
Image: David Villa
Barcelona had not forgotten him, securing his signature from Valencia ahead of the tournament in a move that must have saved them a great deal of money, and his value to Spain is incalculable.
A spectacular goal against Honduras kick-started their World Cup and he has scored crucial goals in every game, while even supplying the assist to Andres Iniesta for the only goal scored by anyone else on the team.
Sneijder, like the rest of the Dutch team, has been efficient rather than spectacular but there is no doubting his influence.
The man sent packing from Real Madrid to Inter as Ronaldo, Kaka and the rest of the big money signings came in proved a point as he returned to the Bernabeu to help the Italians beat Bayern in the final.
Real must still be wincing as they watch the way his subtle midfield prompting has taken the Dutch so far.
He scored his first in the 1-0 win over Japan, got the decisive second in the 2-1 victory over Slovakia in the second round and was credited with both goals in the 2-1 win against Brazil, famously patting his bald pate in celebration at the second.
"It slipped off my bald head and went into the goal," he said.
Image: Wesley Sneijder
Path to redemption
The long-haired Forlan is unlikely to find the same route to goal but on this form nor will he need it.
The blond Uruguayan has the pin-up looks but despite his outstanding track record over the last six seasons in Spain his reputation remained tainted by the poor spell in England.
The path to redemption is now complete, with his drive, skill and movement providing three goals, including a sensational free-kick against Ghana.
Uruguay's first semi-final appearance in 40 years would not have been conceivable without Forlan and the way he has played with Luis Suarez.
The latter will be absent from the semi-final against the Netherlands, meaning the weight of Uruguayan hopes will rest squarely on Forlan's shoulders.
It is the sort of challenge he, Sneijder, Villa and Klose have risen to at this World Cup, proving once again that strength of character, speed of thought and great technique beat marketing pizzazz hands down.
Image: Diego Forlan