The World's Blog: Day 18

The elite of the world continue show the world why they are called the elite in this World Cup.

Netherlands 2, Slovakia 1

Again, our expectations of aesthetic Dutch football overshadow the greatest truth yet: the Flying Dutchmen are in the quarterfinals! Against Brazil… Well, it’s better than 24 other sides can say – but the beating drum continues to resound: if Holland cannot reduce defensive blunders and start capitalizing on the vast amounts of offensive opportunities they create, they stand no chance in the face of the world’s greatest team.

The Dutch fans’ state of mind going into this match was that of mixed emotions. We probably would have preferred to play a more prestigious Italian side (and annihilate them instead), as opposed to a team with nothing to lose.  Either way, we felt, victory was imminent. This hubris, bordering on arrogance, is trademark in the Dutch national team, and historically, it has culminated in defeat and agony.

Bert Van Marwijk’s starting lineup was a bit strange, as the induction of Robben (finally) resulted in Kuyt being placed out left. Robben scored a textbook goal in the first half, yet Kuyt only looked comfortable after Robben’s departure, and his return to the right wing. Too many good players and too few positions is our tragedy. Sneijder was brilliant, but that is becoming the new norm. Van Persie struggled once again, and the Dutch media’s consistent pressure on the Rotterdam striker is evidently not helping. The match was truly won in the midfield however, with Van Bommel and de Jong’s presence holding the majority of the match’s possession.

Slovakia looked quite dangerous in the second half, threatening with two strong opportunities. I was happy about this. Stekelenburg was tested heavily for the first time of the tournament, and he passed. Thus far, the Dutch have only given up two goals, both concessions being penalties. I am not, however, impressed with Holland’s cohesion still. We had three easy matches to work out the kinks, and we have not done so. And although the overwhelming nature of Holland’s talent can lift them against weaker sides, Robinho and Fabiano will pick apart every last blemish on the Dutch psyche.

True, we have made it into the quarter finals of the world’s greatest sporting event, but in this supporter’s eyes, anything less than 4th place is a failure. So yes: I expect to defeat Brazil. Every team who has played Brazil so far has been forced to play Brazilian football, and every team who has played Holland has played Dutch football. It is our responsibility to force Brazil to play spacious, clean football, and pray that our center-mids can stop the Brazilian counterattack. No team is so closely associated with a brand of football than the Dutch, and if we force Brazil to play our game, the tides may be turned.

I am proud of my side’s successes thus far, but like anyone who wears the oranje, I want more. 

Yes, I got a little greedy.

Before the World Cup, I felt like, if Slovakia made it out of group play, well, that's a victory! I mean, this was my team's first trip to the World Cup, so how much can really be expected. Hoped for, OK, but expected? Let's be realistic.

But then, good things happened. Slovakia eliminated defending champion Italy to finish second in group play. Italy! Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Slovakia to beat Italy in this World Cup.

So, getting out of group play should have been enough, right? Yes, it should have. But then you're out of group play, and all of a sudden, you want more.

Why not? Why couldn't Slovakia beat The Netherlands and get into the quarterfinals? Everyone is on even ground now, right? Ummmm, not quite.

My first "uh oh" thought was when I saw Arjen Robben in the starting lineup. Say what you will about Robben and his injury history, the guy is still incredibly talented and dangerous. Robben being in the starting lineup for the first time in the tournament would not help Slovakia's chances, and it didn't. His speed was too much and when he broke free in the 18th minute for the game's first goal, I feared it could be a long day.

The next "uh oh" thought was seeing Slovakia's body language. The team was creating chances but was also giving away so many passes. That was a problem, but an even bigger problem was the players' reaction to the passes being off. They threw their hands in the air, dropped their heads, pouted. Just keep playing! Stop complaining, stop being babies and play!

That's when I knew they were in trouble. If Slovakia wasn't unified, wasn't confident, wasn't playing together, they didn't have the talent to stay with Holland.

But still, I believed. I kept hoping. They were getting shots, getting chances, and had surprised everyone to this point. Why not one more? Why not?

Because Slovakia just wasn't good enough this time.

Netherlands didn't play that great, but played better than Slovakia, and what are you going to do? It just wasn't to be this time.

But congrats to Slovakia. This was a young team that went a lot farther than anyone expected. This can only be something to build on. They showed they can attack with anyone, beat high-level teams and compete with anyone.

So, wait till next year. ...and by next year, I mean 2014. Then, when Slovakia gets to the knockout stage and beyond, they'll be ready, and none of us will be surprised. 

Brazil 3, Chile 0

Brazil’s samba stars have strolled into the quarter finals in a leisurely manner rarely found at this stage. Their latest victim, Chile, had displayed great tenacity and fight in the matches leading up to this encounter. They played a combination of attractive, attacking soccer, and smart, composed defending which gave them two victories and a hard fought loss against Spain. Their accomplishments, however, were wiped clean today as the yellow and green effortlessly disposed of them, scoring three goals and keeping a clean sheet with frightening ease. The clash against Chile acts as an excellent form of preparation against the powerful Dutch squad, a meeting with history that will surely provide a heart pounding encounter.

Although this is their fourth match, Brazilian fans and journalists behave as if their world cup is only now beginning. Group play, and often the first elimination round, is treated as a high stakes tune up for the matches in the later stages that really matter.  With those warm ups now behind them, the selecao is expected to tighten their laces and go for the jugular in every match.

For a favored team going into the World Cup, the expectations of a nation can become a heavy burden that some teams cannot overcome. Favored teams have a propensity to believe matches are won before they are even played. We saw it with England this year. We saw it with Spain in last year’s Confederation’s Cup. We saw it with Brazil four years ago in Germany. But this Brazil squad, many of whom were on the roster four years ago, knows all too well the difference between cockiness and confidence. Confidence, the feeling that you can beat any opposing 11 on the pitch, is how a team like Brazil can easily dispose of a very dangerous Chilean side. Cockiness, on the other hand, is how a team like Spain lost to the United States last year.

This Brazilian side, their wounds from Germany still not fully healed, knows better than to underestimate an opponent, and there was no underestimating to be found as the Brazilians ruthlessly eliminated the Chileans. Credit Chile, however, who attacked relentlessly throughout the tournament and did both their nation and their continent proud. For Brazil, the road to the trophy is no longer lined with roses and weak opponents, as the Oranje will be desperate to get their World Cup monkey of their back, and what better side to do it against than Brazil?

Sarah Rudd
Username: srudd

Would things have been different with Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce out there today?  Probably not.  Chile was outplayed tonight by a superior Brazilian team.  Big isn’t a word you’d associate with a Brazilian team, but compared to Chile, these guys looked big, strong and fast.  In the end they were just too much for La Roja.  The first four minutes looked promising as Chile maintained possession and seemed to be able to move the ball well, but a quick counter attack seemed to rattle the nerves and foreshadow things to come.  It was a good 10 minutes before Chile saw the ball again.  Their tactic of pressing high up the pitch was difficult to execute because no Brazilian player was on the ball long enough to get closed down.  The Brazilian movement was too much for Chile and frequently players were confused about who to mark.  The introduction of Ismael Fuentes and Pablo Contreras at the back certainly didn’t help matters.

Chile conceded the first goal off of a corner.  The marking was terrible and the Chileans looked like they were completely boxed out by a wall of yellow, allowing Juan the freedom to get up unchallenged.  Brazil used their size and strength to their advantage here and I’m surprised they weren’t able to score from more set pieces against Chile.

The second goal was ugly defending by the Chileans.  Everyone got sucked into the middle trying to cut out the pass to Luis Fabiano.  No one bothered to pick up Kaka as he made a nice run into the middle.  Luis Fabiano continues his run between two defenders, with Contreras keeping him onside and Kaka picked him out beautifully.  Ideally, Chile should have done better defending counter attacks, but the Brazilians gave them a handful with their pace and beautiful movement.  I’m not sure how many teams could have done better to be honest.  Defending the Brazilian counter of Robinho, Kaka and Luis Fabiano is a big ask of any defense.

Offensively, things weren’t much better for Chile.  The more defensive lineup meant that Bielsa was playing without one of his traditional playmakers, either Mati Fernandez or Jorge Valdivia.  Chile wasn’t given much space to operate and seemed to make poor decisions under the pressure of the Brazilian defense.  Humberto Suazo looked rusty.  Mark Gonzalez was nowhere to be found in the final third, most likely because he was constantly tracking back to deal with Maicon’s runs.  The introduction of Valdivia in the second half seemed to momentarily breathe new life into Chile and give them some creativity.  In the end it just wasn’t enough.

Even though only one point separated the two teams in qualifying, tonight Brazil showed why numbers can be deceiving.  These two teams are worlds apart.  Chile was a fun team to watch but in the end they just weren’t the better team.  Hats off to Brazil for a great game and hats off to Howard Webb to letting the two teams play and decide the winner.