The group stage is over. Boring at times, it will nevertheless be remembered for last edition’s finalists bowing out getting their asses handed to them.
The round of 16 is also done with and Mexico and England will look back and say they were undone by shoddy refereeing. Yes, they both lost to teams that were better, but it’s football, and losing teams will always complain – “Had they got the decisions their way, you never know” (Actually we do – they would still have lost. Yes, England, your “team” sucks that much)
So now on to the quarters!
Netherlands v/s Brazil
A match that has every Christian football fan falling on his knees and thanking Jesus for such a wonderful game, never mind that it’s only the quarter-finals. The 5-time World Champions against the Dutch who will be plying their “new” brand of Total Football. The last time these guys met – in the 1998 WC semis – Brazil won. Only just though, with the match being settled on penalties. For starts, this is really the first big test of both the teams. Brazil’s biggest challenge in the “Group of Death” came from a stubborn North Korean (WTF?!) side and Netherlands have breezed through the tournament so far – grinding out goals against stubborn opposition, but winning their matches easily, nevertheless.
On any level, at any stage, this is always going to be an interesting match.
Brazil’s lineup has been hit with injuries and suspensions – especially in the midfield, with Melo out injured and Ramires suspended. So, if Elano recovers in time, he will start with Dani Alves on the right.
On paper, Brazil have the better defence without a doubt. Lucio is in the form of his life, Juan’s understanding with Lucio is fantastic, Maicon is currently the world’s best right-back, and Bastos has looked dangerous going forward. That Bastos seems to be the weak link here only emphasizes how good his defensive compatriots are. That said, you can’t help but think that Robben is going to have his fun with Bastos and unlike in other matches, Bastos will probably be forced to limit his runs and instead stay back to try and counter the threat that Robben poses.
For once the Brazilian attack isn’t the strongest in the World Cup (This time that honour belongs hands down to Argentina) but even so, Brazil will still have most defences wetting their pants. Fabiano can dribble, shoot from distance AND poach while Robinho seems to have put his “Manchester City” moments firmly behind him. They both have been dead on target throughout the Brazilian World Cup Campaign all the way from the qualifiers to the friendlies and now, the finals. The only concern for Brazil would be Kaka’s apparent lack of form, but this is Kaka and one pass from Kaka is all that’s needed to slice through defences. With Fabiano waiting to pounce, Brazil can strike at a moment’s notice.
Gilberto Silva should close down Sneijder, and not allow Holland’s players to switch positions so seamlessly. Brazil will also have to stop the Dutch counter attacks – Holland’s first goal against Slovakia: Sneijder in defence, long ball to Robben: cuts and shoots, goal – that hit opponents before they realize what just happened. Definitely Dunga, who has been impressive with his superior tactical organization, will come up with something.
The Dutch defence haven’t looked too convincing at this Cup, least in their last match against the Slovaks. Vittek missed 2 glorious chances to level the score and one expects that Brazil will not be that wasteful. This match would be an easy win for Brazil with their impressive attack against the meagre Dutch defence except for two people…
De Jong and Van Bommel. Cue: the most important battle in the match – Brazil’s attack against Holland’s defensive midfielders. If De Jong/Van Bommel manage to continue to “control” the game the way they have so far, suffocating Kaka and Robinho/Elano, the Dutch will have a more than decent chance of winning the match. Van Bommel and De Jong will have to cut out any influence Kaka and Robinho exert over the game, in the process isolating Fabiano, if they are to win this game. Alves will also be making runs up the field but as long as he is marked tightly, he lets frustration get the better of him and starts imploding – crossing/shooting wayward. Also in defence, van Bronckhorst will be tested for the first time this tournament (Has he played so far???) by Maicon’s dazzling runs down the right wing. Maicon has so far proved influential in Brazil’s attacks and defence and after not needing to have touched the ball except for defensive passes, van Bronckhorst will suddenly have to pull his game up many levels. [Interesting: Van Bommel has won the most tackles by any player so far in this World Cup]
And shifting over to Holland’s attack – “unpredictable” describes them the best. Before the tournament, everyone was looking forward to Netherland’s attack setting the stage on fire. Though they haven’t been able to play their free-flowing style of Total Football, at times, they have burst into life.
Robben will be raring to have a go at Bastos and Lucio and Maicon will be very familiar with Robben’s skills, thanks to their Inter team-mate Chivu experiencing the “horror” first-hand in the CL final. And with Inter’s Sneijder playing at Robben’s side, Brazil’s defence will be receiving their toughest challenge so far. van Persie appears to still be “warming up” and Kuyt has managed to stay with the rest of the attack – playing levels above what he normally operates at – and all the Dutch need is one of these big four to fire to get them through (Holland has scored in every game so far).
Predicted Winner: Brazil Holland
Kicks off at: 19:30 IST
Dive?: Brazil 2/5 Holland 1/5
Blunder watch: Brazil 0/5 Holland 1/5
Players to look out for
Brazil: Fabiano, Kaka, Cesar
Holland: Sneijder, Robben, Van Bommel