Friday, July 02, 2010

Preview of Quarter-final 1: Netherlands v Brazil

It's The Oranje versus Selecao. It's Europe versus South America. It's arguably the best team never to have won a World Cup against the country with the most under their belt. It's two footballing mad nations who both have fantastic teams and a lot of history.

Traditionally both teams are associated with flamboyant, flair football. For Holland this is embodied by the term 'total football' which describes the panache and excitement of teams of the past. It got them to two finals in the seventies but it never got them the World Cup crown. Brazil are synonymous with a samba style. A graceful attacking beautiful football. Unlike the Dutch this is an approach that has worked for them in the past.

Yet both Holland and Brazil have adopted a far more pragmatic style at this World Cup. They still have players who can show devastating skills and produce the spectacular but they are prevented total freedom of expression by the formations employed and the general approach of their managers. The Dutch like to play with a 4-2-3-1 that stifles opposition possession. With two very good defensive midfielders in De Jong and van Bommel it allows the front four (four of Robben, van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt and van der Waart) to look for goals. The attack-minded players are also good at tracking back and doing defensive work, particularly Kuyt. Holland haven't really come to life or put their foot on the gas as yet. They have got the results without demonstrating the real ability of their front players. Robben who is just back from injury should add more impetus. The centre of defence is where their biggest worry lies. The Dutch haven't properly been tested yet, Brazil will be a stern test.

Brazil have an excellent defence. It is an unusual thing to focus on about Brazil but their manager Dunga, a defensive midfielder by trade, has really focused on getting the defence right as he sees it as the key to their success. They are hard to breakdown at the back and Juan has been very strong in the centre of their defence. He and Lucio have a formidable partenrship and we cannot forget their quality fullbacks Maicon and Bastos. Further up the field Brazil have a lot of pace and creativity. Kaka and Robinho are simply superb and Fabiano is a deadly goalscorer. They do have a couple of injury/suspension problems. Elano is out with injury and Ramires is suspended. Melo is coming back from injury and may not be ready. In which case both Alves and Josue may start. It will certainly be a blow to their midfield so their replacements will have to step up.

The last time these two sides faced each other in a major finals was the semi-finals of World Cup '98. The match finished 1-1 thanks to a late Kluivert equaliser. Brazil ended up winning on penalties. What odds another penalty shoot-out in what is an epic quarter-final clash.

No comments: