The host against the longshot. The defending champions against the most-balanced team. Sounds like a final four worthy of any World Cup.
Not that these are the greatest teams soccer has produced. Brazil's 1970 team certainly was superior to its current squad. The 1974 and '78 Dutch, featuring the revolutionary "Clockwork Orange" attack, probably would blow away the 1998 Netherlands teams.Still, that's nitpicking. The storylines are superb for the semifinals, with the French playing the Croats on Wednesday, one day after Brazil meets the Netherlands.
FRANCE VS. CROATIA: The last home team to win the Cup came in 1978, when Argentina defeated the last of those great Dutch clubs at Buenos Aires. In fact, no host has made the final since.
France has gotten to the final four despite an inability to find the net. It beat one-dimensional Paraguay 1-0 on a sudden-death overtime goal by Laurent Blanc in the second round. Blanc had the deciding shot in a penalty kick shootout against Italy in the quarterfinals.
Another close game might not benefit France, which hasn't faced as rugged an opponent at Croatia. Then again, if the French find the range early, they have a superior attack.
Croatia can withstand physical play, as it did against Germany. It also has impressive counterattacking skills, and its defense has been among the staunchest in the cup.
As a World Cup first-timer, the Croatians should be somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion. Don't count on it: Many of them have solid international backgrounds. Croatia made the European Championship field two years ago, so its achievement as the first newcomer to make the semis is somewhat misleading.
BRAZIL vs. THE NETHERLANDS: Unlike 1994, when it outclassed the field, Brazil has been inconsistent this year. The Brazilians have been brilliant at times, ordinary at others. Their 3-2 victory over Denmark in the quarterfinals demonstrated their sensational scoring power, but also displayed once more the problems they've had on defense.
Coach Mario Zagallo believes the Dutch are the toughest team Brazil has faced thus far.
"They have a refined ball touch and great individual talent," he said. "It's impressive that they can lose a player like Marc Overmars and not feel the difference."
Overmars played less than a half against Argentina in the quarterfinals, slowed by a hamstring injury. He's expected to start against Brazil.
At times, the Dutch defense has looked a step slow. If any team can capitalize on that, it is one led by the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Bebeto and Cesar Sampaio.
"Brazil will be more difficult than Argentina," said Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, whose last-minute goal lifted the Netherlands into the semis.
The Dutch have also had their moments, good and bad. They had a shaky first round marred by Patrick Kluivert's two-game suspension after elbowing a Belgian opponent in a lackluster 0-0 opener. They routed South Korea but blew a 2-0 lead in the second half against Mexico. The 2-2 tie allowed them to win the group, but not in the manner they preferred.