Thursday, July 1, 2010

Friday Quarterfinals: What To Watch For


Why did I choose Netherlands to beat Brasil? Because I think that they are the only team on this half of the draw that is as talented as Brasil and can beat them even if Brasil play well. They will not be starved of possession, and can match Brasil in that regard, and their supremely talented wingers have as good a chance as anyone in the tournament at exploiting Brasil's 'weakness', which is that they have a makeshift left back who does not naturally play that position, and that as their fullbacks bomb forward to take part in the attack, they leave Brasil's defense susceptible to the counterattack, especially with talented wingers having space to exploit that has been left by advancing fullbacks. If anyone can capitalize on this, I would think Arjen Robben can, while Kuyt on the other wing is the perfect workhorse to try to run up and down and match Maicon's (or Alves') forward runs. Add to this Van Persie and Sneijder, who like Robben are capable of creating a goal from nothing, and I like Holland's chances to pull the shocker. And also watch for Elia as a late game sub on the wing- he has pace and skill and could turn the game in the manner I just described in the last 20 minutes, or at least his width and pace should keep Maicon/Alves forward runs at bay.

I'm not certain that Holland will win, but I think they have the best chance to beat Brasil as any team in this half of the draw, so I'm playing an educated hunch here.

Less than confident prediction: Netherlands 2-1 (aet) Brasil.

11.30am PST. ESPN

Uruguay were the best team on the planet between 1924-1950 (Olympic gold medalists in 1924, 1928, World Cup champions in 1930, and again in 1950 after there were no world cups in 1942 or 1946 because of World War II). Since then they frankly haven't done much, so they are in an interesting position, as they are both upstarts and aristocracy. Technically they will be difficult for any team to beat in this tournament, because they are so organized, disciplined, and difficult to break down defensively, but at the same time they have not 1 but 2 strikers in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez that not only score an obscene amount of goals but also can both create a goal from nothing in a 1 on 1 (or even 1 on 2) situation.

That being said, I think the only way to stifle Uruguay is to prevent the Uruguay midfield from linking their strong defense with the two strikers. If you can control the midfield and keep them from linking up with the strikers when moving the ball from the back to the front, then in a way you cut off the two headed monster up top, leaving them stranded if you can stifle their service.

And for that reason this is a pretty good matchup for Ghana, because Ghana's strongest asset is it's midfield strength. If any team can control the midfield and disconnect the two heads of Forlan and Suarez from the Uruguay body, Ghana might be the team to do it. Ghana's defense is also totally legit, and is led my the immense John Mensah, who had a massive, massive match against the USA in the round of 16.

One last thing to watch for is if a Ghana substitution can change the game in the last 20 minutes. While Uruguay's 2 best players will be on the field from the beginning, and Ghana's best player is out of the entire world cup with a knee injury, 3 of their next 5 best players, Asamoah, Appiah, and Muntari, are themselves recovering from injuries and may not be fit enough to play the entire match. But they are fit enough to come on in the last 20 minutes as everyone else is tiring and make a difference with their talent.

So watch to see if Ghana's midfield can separate Uruguay's danger men from getting service from the back, and also if Mensah and company can contain the explosive Forlan and Suarez. I can't call this one, but I do expect it to be low scoring; do not be surprised if there is only 1 goal in this one. I'll be happy for either team if they win, but I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be more happy for Ghana of they could become the first African team to ever make it to a World Cup semifinal.

Less than confident prediction: Ghana 1-0 Uruguay if Ghana score first. If Uruguay score first then Ghana 0-2 Uruguay.

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