Saturday, July 10, 2010

Quarter-final 1: Netherlands 2-1 Brazil

The quarter-finals kicked off with a clash to relish, a repeat of the '98 semi-final (which was decided on penalties). And if ever there was one in this World Cup, it was (as an old cliche goes) a 'game of two halves'.

The first half saw Brazil take a deserved 1-0 lead into half-time. After thinking they had taken an 8th minute lead courtesy of a Robinho finish only to have it correctly ruled out for offside they had it in the net legitimately only two minutes later. On this occasion the 35 year old Ooijer, currently without a club and playing as a replacement for Mathijsen who had injured his knee in the build-up, failed to implement the offside trap alongside his team-mates and so allowed Robinho to collect a quality through ball from Melo for a well finished opening goal.

Brazil continued to create chances. Juan shot just over the bar after a good cross from Alves. Then Robinho had a brilliant run down the left flank gliding past challenges as if they weren't there before losing his balance, but still managing to square the ball to Fabiano, who back flicked it on to Kaka, who attempted a very good curling shot from just outside the area - forcing Stekelenburg into an excellent save. Just before the half finished Maicon hit a powerful shot after a strong run, only for it to crash into the side netting. It wasn't as if the Netherlands had had zero chances in the first half, but they really were nothing to write home about.

Early in the second half Brazil would rue their profligacy as the Netherlands drew level. Sneijder picked up the ball deep on the right flank and crossed in a quality ball with his left foot - only for it to glance off Melo's head and into the back of the net. It was possibly more Cesar's fault than Melo's though as he came out to claim the ball and missed it. However you interpret it, it was ugly stuff at the back by Brazil. Sneijder has been credited with the goal, no doubt as the ball was on target before it brushed Melo's head anyway.

This was the tonic the Dutch needed and suddenly it was them in the ascendancy. It was an ascendancy they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. Although having said that the next good chance did fall to Brazil after Ooijer's deflected clearance found Kaka on the edge of the box. He attempted to place the ball majestically into the top right hand corner but instead it drifted harmlessly wide.

Then the Dutch took the lead in a way I would describe as beautiful simplicity. Robben sent in a good corner kick, Kuyt flicked it on with his head and Sneijder scored with a simple but effective header. The flick on was crucial but there must be questions asked of the Brazilian defence.

It soon went from bad to worse for Brazil as they lost the plot. A few reckless challenges were flying in and it suddenly seemed like a distinct possibility that they would end up with a man sent off. And sure enough they did only minutes after Holland's second goal.

Robben was having an excellent game twisting and turning on the wing. Bastos had been having a torrid time with him and after picking up a yellow card early on was lucky to remain on the pitch as he tripped Robben repeatedly and on occasion it was quite blatant. Robben forced Dunga's hand to replace him with Gilberto. And it was Robben who was the victim when Melo was sent off. After he made an innocuous foul on Robben he stupidly stamped on his calf to earn a deserved red card. For a long time I have considered Robben as a bit of a diver and a faker but in my opinion, in this game, he didn't behave in this way. Every time he went down it was a foul, sure he might have exaggerated a couple just slightly but it wasn't anything like some of the antics I've seen him display.

Brazil proved they are distinctly average under pressure. In the remaining twenty minutes or so they did not create much. They did almost score when Kuyt had to expertly clear off the line but that moment was definitely the exception rather than the norm. And then on the break Sneijder should have completed his hat-trick after being set up by Robin van Persie, but his shot wasn't good enough and it was thus saved by Cesar.

Not that it mattered to the result. The Dutch had a famous win over Brazil, and what's more, on the balance of play, I believe they deserved it. The only sour note for them was the yellow cards for van der Wiel and De Jong which ruled them out of the semi-final.

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