Netherlands v Brasil
Friday July 2nd 7am PST
This is a mouth-watering matchup between two familiar World Cup foes. Brasil has won the last two World Cup encounters – winning 3-2 on a long-range free kick from Branco in the 1994 quarterfinals and on penalties in the 1998 semi-finals. The stakes are incredibly high in the match, with the winner likely to be favored to defeat either Uruguay or Ghana and secure a place in the final.
Although both of these squads have a great deal of offensive talent, don’t be surprised if this is a low-scoring affair. As Chile can attest, Dunga’s side are very well organized in defense and are difficult to break down. They are happy to defend patiently and wait for opportunities to score through set pieces and counter-attacks. Despite pre-tournament questions about its back line, Holland’s defense has held up so far, allowing only two goals in four matches. While it has yet to dazzle offensively the way it did in some of its pre-tournament friendlies, Holland look solid in all phases of the game and should be a worthy opponent for Brasil.
Bert van Marwijk’s team will have studied Brasil carefully and will be well aware of just how devastating Brasil can be on the counter attack. The Dutch will also be especially fearful of conceding the first goal. Doing so will force them to push additional players into attack, a strategy that plays right into Brasil’s hands. Consequently, rather than throwing several players forward at once, as did Chile, Holland will try to stay much more compact. Defensive midfielders Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel will serve as a shield for the back four as they attempt to thwart any attacks. With most of its players being carrying such defensive responsibilities, the Dutch will have to hope that the attacking quartet of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, and Robin van Persie is able to create scoring chances.
Based on his performance in Holland’s previous match, as well as on his form all season, it would seem that the most likely candidate to do so would be Robben. As he has done all year for both club and country, Robben will play as an inverted right winger and will look to cut inside and shoot with his favored left foot, like he did here against Slovakia.
Robben never suffers from a shortage of confidence and should be especially eager to take on Michel Bastos, who is being used as a left back, but who generally plays as a left winger for his club team, Lyon.
Although they will have noted Holland’s strong defensive record in this World Cup, Brasil will feel that they can trouble the Dutch defense. While the central-defensive pairing of John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen have performed well so far, they have yet to face attacking players of the caliber of Kaka, Robinho, and Luis Fabiano. As evidenced by Brasil’s second goal against Chile, the trio has an excellent understanding that comes from having played together on the national team for the last couple of years.
Brasil may also look to attack the left side of the Dutch defense, where the ageing Giovanni van Bronckhorst may find it difficult to cope with Maicon’s speed and power. Holland may try to mitigate this threat by having the hard-working Kuyt track Maicon whenever he makes one of his forward runs.
While most people would love to see a wide-open goal-fest, I expect to see a cagey, low-scoring match. The Oranje will do all it can to avoid conceding the first goal, as they know that Brazil are excellent frontrunners. Brazil have to be considered favorites to win both this match and the entire tournament, but don’t sleep on the Dutch. If they can keep Brazil from scoring, they have several attacking players (including super-sub Eljero Elia) that can be match winners.