Kick-off: Monday, 28th June – 12:30pm
Stadium: Durban Stadium, Durban
Holland, favourites to win their World Cup Group, face some unexpected opponents in the second round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. They take on Slovakia, who, with a final group match victory over Italy, sent the defending World Champions home. Holland have been consistently good, and that is something which takes a lot to say about them. But, in all fairness, Bert van Marwijk’s side have been getting stronger and stronger over the past twelve months, and they are a serious force to be reckoned with at South Africa 2010. They have played some football which has been great to watch, as they use the full width of the pitch, and being Dutch, they like to keep the ball on the deck. This is one of their strongest chances to go all the way at a World Cup, a title which has alluded them, as they have always collapsed at some point in the knockout stages. While it is hard to judge with the Netherlands because of their history again this time round, they really do not show any signs of completely capitulating and throwing their games away. They look more of a solid, compact and efficient unit than they have been in the past, and have looked comfortable in their three group victories, without really stepping up a gear and putting the shine on any of their run outs. Before their final group match, a 2-1 victory over Cameroon, coach Marwijk stated that he wanted more from his side, but again it was more of a job well done from Holland, instead of impressing greatly, but there is a sense that there is much more bubbling under the surface.
Holland will score goals at the World Cup, that is without question. They a great attacking side and their defence has been incredibly lean over past months. Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder keeps pushing his value up and up, and is the stand out star player in the team, but the Dutch fans will have been happy to see Arjen Robben introduced as a sub against Cameroon, coming on and setting up the winning goal for Klaas Jan Huntelaar. If Holland are going to go deep into the tournament, then they need Robben firing on all cylinders, as his replacement, Rafael Van Der Vaart simply has not grabbed his chance. Holland will play patiently and, like Spain, they will stick to their passing game as much as possible. That is their way, and that is what has been working for them so very well. They are a team, and that has been reflected in four different scorers of their five goals. However, while they have not been pushed all that much in their group matches, Cameroon, who finally decided to play with some passion, got through the Dutch defence on several occasions, which may worry Van Marwijk. If the Netherlands fall into their trap of being over arrogant about their abilities and chances, then they will undo themselves, and give some opposition somewhere, and easy victory. However, in the last sixteen, Holland will probably relish the chance to test their legs some more against Slovakia, who the Dutch would be expected to beat 9 times out of 10. That may sound harsh, but it is a reality, and while the Slovaks beat Italy, stepping out against Holland will be a completely different experience. The Dutch have the quality to ease through to the quarter finals.
There was always the brewing threat from Slovakia, after they topped their qualification group in Europe. They started quite strongly in their first match, which was against World Cup outsiders New Zealand, and all looked comfortable for Slovakia until the Kiwi’s equalised in injury time. But Slovakia had done enough in the match to suggest that they would cause the other teams in their group problems. They did not cause Paraguay any problems at all, as the South Americans defeated the Europeans by a 2-0 scoreline, and suddenly Slovakia found themselves bottom of the group going into the last round of matches. But they saved their best for last, as they took on an Italian side who needed a win to boost them into the last sixteen. The Slovakians were not ready to go home though, and in a fantastic match, they opened up a 2-0 lead over the Italians, taking their chances when they came as the match opened up. Italy grabbed a goal back, only for Slovakia to go on and get a third as Italy were pressing for a crucial equaliser that would have been enough to get them through to the second round. The defending World Champions did get one back, but it was not enough, as the 3-2 Slovakian win, sent their players into celebrations befitting of winning the final itself. It was a big deal for Slovakia, as this is the first time as an independent nation they have taken part in the World Cup. It is against World Cup odds that they have got through, with Italy and Paraguay expected to take the spoils. So what next for the brave Slovakians? A tough match against Holland.
Slovakia showed a lot of strength in picking off quick passes when they were breaking forward against Italy. They were helped by an Italian midfield that simply never showed up to the races. They also created some good chances against New Zealand, but were just not able to take more and grab all three points. There is the likelihood that Slovakia will create more chances than one may initially think against Holland, as they are quick on the break, and use the space on the pitch well. This is a huge match for them, and they should be up for the challenge, even if they are running on pure adrenalin. It takes steady heads at this stage of tournament football, and the Slovakians do not show a lot of that, but they do show a lot of grit and determination in winning the ball back in midfield, and as scrambled as their defence gets, it scraps to the last. They do not have the quality in the side which Holland have, that is obvious, but they will give a good account of themselves. They will need to maintain focus at the back a lot more, as the Netherlands will be much more versatile and quick in their attack than Italy were. If Slovakia are going to win this one, it will be another step against the odds, but coming second to Holland is no shame.
Holland have the class to move through to the quarter finals, where they will probably meet Brazil, which is an awesome prospect to think about. Holland have multiple avenues of scoring potential, and it will probably overwhelm the Slovakians. Is this the type of match where Holland have blown things before at the World Cup. Yes. Will they do it again? No, because while they have that confident arrogant swagger about them, they still look as if they can step up a gear or two, and that makes them a real strong threat. Third in the 2010 FIFA World Cup chart for amount of passes made in three group games, they will keep the ball and play their way through Slovakia.