Kick-off: Friday, 2nd July – 3:00pm
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
World Cup Quarter-Final
The Dutch put their immaculate record in these finals well and truly to the test on Friday afternoon, when Dunga’s Brazil arrive in Port Elizabeth for this mouthwatering last-eight clash. Holland, however, don’t have the best of records when it comes to playing the ‘Samba Kings’ in World Cup’s, having lost the previous two battles. There’s no better time or place to amend a poor record than in the quarter-finals of a FIFA World Cup, so can Bert Van Mariwjk inspire a country which has never lifted the trophy to a famous victory over the newly formed tournament favourites?
It is peculiar how Holland, a team which blew both Ghana and Hungary out of the water before the finals in friendlies, have somehow gone backwards in how they approach their games. The Dutch are renowned for their ‘Total Football’ philosophy, for playing sexy football like their Brazilian counterparts, but instead Van Marwijk has Holland playing with more solidarity, with more organisation and positional discipline. In fairness, it’s worked well for Holland, who up till now haven’t dropped a single point and many still believe have yet to really turn on the style. In previous tournaments, EURO 2008 in particular, Holland were criticised for easing off the gas after cruising through the group stage, what was then the ‘Group of Death’. It has been a feature of theirs in recent tournaments, an unwanted trait if you like of starting well, showing tonnes of promise but never living up to their early billing. Perhaps now, with some harsh lessons from EURO 2008 learnt and having not exerted too much energy up till now, we will see the Dutch come of age, possibly even ending their World Cup drought with a sought after capture of the FIFA World Cup.
Some more good news for the Holland coach in that no-one suffered any lasting damage in their 2-1 Round of 16 victory over a difficult Slovakia. Even more exciting is the possibility of seeing Arjen Robben strutting his stuff and starting for the second game running, with the Bayern Munich supremo scoring a sublime effort in just his first start of the tournament. In stark contrast, though, is the form of forward Robin Van Persie, who has just one goal to his name after four games and was even seen sulking on the touchline after being subbed by Van Marwijk on Monday. Dirk Kuyt has been his industrious self, a ‘must’ on Marwijk’s team sheet, as well is Wesley Sneijder, and to say it’s a talented Holland team, after naming those stars, would be an understatement. Moreover, all bar Van Persie are performing to the high standard needed to compete at this stage of the tournament, although every single member of the Dutch team will know full well they need to raise their game substantially if they’re to overcome the challenge of Brazil.
We feel it’s fair to say there’s plenty more to come from Holland, who have yet to escape the clutches of ‘Gear 3? in terms of effort input. That’s a positive though, as it means there’s plenty of room for improvement from a team which has endless amounts of ability. The pace of their forward play has been pedestrian at this point yet its still been enough to ease them through the early rounds and into the quarter’s. Very little energy has been expended thus far, so we’re expecting more of a rip-roaring display from the Dutch this time around in a match where they’ll need to pick up the pace a lot more if they’re to really test a Brazil team which may be favourites but hasn’t yet been tested, at least not to their full capacity.
If there’s ever a team better equipped to end a team’s unbeaten run – Holland currently 23 games unbeaten – then it’s Brazil, five-time World Cup winners. On Friday afternoon, Brazil, who after cruising through the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ without losing a game, face their biggest obstacle yet as they aim to make it a record six FIFA World Cup triumph, thus becoming the first country to win the competition in Africa. Considering just how poor some of African’s contingents have been, that may be a major achievement as the likelihood of FIFA electing another African country to host the finals in the near future is small. So is there more to come from Dunga’s Brazil? And is the answer to our question so blooming obvious?
A lot like their last-eight opponents, Brazil haven’t broken sweat qualifying for the quarter’s, repelling some difficult assaults on paper from Ivory Coast, Portugal and fellow South Americans Chile en route to their fifth consecutive quarter-final appearance. It makes Holland’s scalps up till now look ridiculously simple, so is there any reason why Brazil shouldn’t be the favourites to win the tournament AGAIN? We see absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t, and if they could somehow manoeuvre past this Dutch tester, which is arguably going to be their trickiest encounter of the tournament so far, then it’s difficult to see how they won’t continue to grow, and furthermore, who on earth will actually stop them.
Its been well publicised that Dunga has been heavily criticised by some corners of the Brazilian press, as well as a large portion of supporters turning their noses up in disgust at the former 1994 winner’s pragmatic mindset. Just two goals conceded, and with Julio Cesar on the verge of keeping his third successive shut-out of the tournament, and it’s fairly easy to see how Dunga has reinforced a defence which looked both exposed and vulnerable during the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. But it’s also easy to forget that this Brazil side, one which has apparently lost all it’s flair, has scored eight goals in four games and has only Argentina and Germany ahead of them in the scoring charts. To be completely honest, who cares how they play so long as they carry on winning? Granted playing with technical flair has been a way of life for Brazil but if a change in tactic and approach brings about more silverware and glory then the sacrifice will have been for the good of the team. The only problem now is Dunga needs to back it up with the 2010 FIFA World Cup else some serious backlash could await him upon his return, not that he’s at all bothered if truth be told.
Ahead of this intriguing clash with Holland, Dunga has only one decision to ponder and that’s whether to risk hurrying Elano’s return to the Brazil fold, after the former Man City play-maker received a blow to the shin against Ivory Coast. His replacement would have been Ramires, who slotted in nicely against Chile the other night but will miss this clash with Holland through suspension. With that said, Melo didn’t feature against Chile because of injury so it could be a makeshift midfield partnering of Gilberto Silva and Kleberson marshalling the midfield which, although sounds sturdy enough, is an unfamiliar partnership which may leave room for exploitation. Luis Fabiano and Kaka are two notable names which could miss the semi-final should they pick up another caution.
Match Verdict: Holland to WIN – 4.30
I know many here at SoccerBetting fancy the pants off of Brazil to win the tournament outright, so me predicting their downfall at just the quarter-final stage will baffle them. However, the Dutch have been a lot like Brazil so far, very well organised, difficult to break down and yet always a threat going forward. When you have the likes of Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, you’re always going to create chances, whilst every single one of those has the ability to take one as well. It goes without saying that Holland will need to raise their game, but it’s been pretty evident for some time now that there’s so much more to come from Holland and in a tournament which has yet to produce a team to leave tongues wagging, the Dutch will seize yet more confidence as they go in search of their first FIFA World Cup title.