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Our Opponents: Spain

I don’t really have much to say.  I considered not posting a preview at all because to be honest I’ve tried to avoid thinking about this game at all.  I hate and I love these games at the same time.  I would never miss it but at times I can’t bare to watch.

I’m afraid to feel confidence.  The last time a team of mine went into a match against a quality team and I was confident Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final.  United’s performance was insipid; Barcelona were inspired.

To win would be life changing.  The line-ups and tactics seem strikingly similar to the Brazil game.  Regardless of how this game goes over its life if the result is the same I will be a happy man.

I can only imagine what it would be like to see the Dutch win the World Cup in my lifetime.

HUP HOLLAND!

An Open Letter to Johan Cruyff

Dear Mr. Cruyff,

You have given us some of the greatest gifts a football can offer.  You created an almost otherworldly way of playing football that included revolutionary changes for players and teams alike.  Because you gave your country and the world these gifts, you are loved not only as a player but as a person who dreams for perfect and beautiful football. 

The last time our football team reached the World Cup Final game was thirty-two years ago.  I have never experienced an event like this and the thought of the Netherlands winning the World cup in my lifetime brings tears to my eyes.  Having seen the acheivements of the teams created by you in the 1970s I having always dreamed of this day and I can hardly believe it’s happening.

As your fans and as supporters of the Oranje we have been crushed by your support for Spain.  When you, our hero and talismanic chieftain, complement our opponents instead of the Oranje ahead of the most significant match in football it’s hard not to feel betrayed.

All who know you are familiar with how you love to see football played; indeed there isn’t anyone who disagrees with your ideal for beautiful football.  Not every squad is able to achieve this very high level of play and some concessions must be made in the interest of having a functional team.  In this case our Oranje team have been very successful playing a simpler and more defensive form of football.  Perhaps it’s their success without your formula that is troubling to you.  Yours ideals are the same ideals engrained in all Dutch supporters; we all yearn for that same type of football.  I assure you this success without the traditional Dutch style of play is in no way an indictment of your feelings or beliefs. 

To support another country is as near to betrayal as a cultural icon like yourself can come.  Recently in Barcelona the new club president removed you from your honorary post within the illustrious club.  I would be heart-broken if the motivation behind your comments was in part an effort to regain that post for Barcelona.  We share your history and hopes.  We shared your joy in Germany when the world was electrified by what they saw and your heartbreak in the final.  We are all united in the path we’ve walked together.

I implore you to support the Oranje; support that same shirt that you wore in 1974.  As supporters we look to you as our Oranje captain.  These Oranje players representing your country have blossomed within the footballing legacy created by you.  Do not desert us now in our moment of pregnant potential! 

Respectfully yours,

Michael de Vries

***I have attempted to send this letter to Johan Cruyff via the email addresses found on his foundation website as well as his personal website.  A response is not expected.***

Match Report NED v URU

I’m having a hard time coming to grips with a World Cup Final for the Dutch. I’m certainly very proud but I would not have predicted this after the first couple group games. The Dutch have been flat at times, unimpressive and yet somehow they’ve been the most successful team that remains in the tournament. Both Germany and Spain participated in the series of first round shocks; Germany losing to Serbia and Spain losing to Switzerland. But they made it and on the balance of of their consistency, the apparent luck following the squad, and the determination displayed versus Brazil they certainly deserve to be there 

With first choice right-back van der Wiel and the excellent midfielder de Jong out due to suspension Khalid ‘the Cannibal’ Boulahrouz came in to defense and Demy de Zeeuw started in midfield. The first half was quite defensive from Uruguay and the Netherlands created very little in the way of chances. Uruguay’s strategy seemed to be to defensively counteract the Dutch strategy and look to Forlan and Cavani to create by themselves. That isn’t meant as a slight towards Uruguay: with a player like Forlan and considering Uruguay’s suspension/injury concerns it was a very shrewd plan by Tabarez that paid dividends 

There were three notable moments in the first half. The first was van Bronckhorst’s opening goal. I sent out a tweet shortly afterwards saying that I recalled a similar, though less spectacular, goal he scored for the Netherlands against Argentina in a friendly eight or nine years ago. The ball typically moving across the Dutch front players and being played to space for van Bronckhorst who took a touch in stride and blistered the ball into the far right hand corner via the post. The commentator at the time described it as a “snorter” and that it was.  

The second moment was notable for a few loose teeth when Caceres attempted an overhead kick on the top of the box. In doing so he connected perfectly with Demy de Zeeuw’s face. He was replaced at half time by van der Vaart and then taken to hospital. According to reports afterwards he did not suffer a broken jaw as initially suspected and was only left with a few loose teeth.  

In a true case of “anything you can do I can do better” Forlan stepped up and stroked a beautiful curling effort from 25 yards past Stekelenburg. At the interval the scoreline was fair though on a personal note I felt sick and was wondering if this would be the final act in a thus far successful campaign. 

The second half didn’t do anything to help my nerves and Uruguay to their immense credit execute their game plan brilliantly and only through a goal by Sneijder suspected to be offside did the game swing towards the Dutch. Sticking my neck out for Sneijder, I don’t believe the goal was offside. Whether van Persie was active or inactive it doesn’t matter. Van Persie was very very close to his marker with only his leg actually being offside at the time the ball was played. The common interpretation of the rule is the “benefit of the doubt” should be given to the attacker and in this case as van Persie’s only action was to get out of the way the goal was correctly given. On a related note the Valdez goal for Paraguay against Spain should have stood for the very same reason. 

From that point on the Celeste had a very difficult task ahead of them and were not able to put away any of their chances. Robben’s headed goal from the outstanding Kuyt’s cross effectively killed the game. Uruguay did keep coming though and on the balance of the 90 minutes you could argue that they deserved the second goal. Their goal came from a wonderfully worked free kick and game them hope. 

Past that goal you would expect a minute or so of remaining extra time. Curiously in the 94th minute the referee appeared to blow the whistle and successfully confused the teams, the cameramen who rushed onto the pitch and the commentators alike. He did not in fact blow for full time but instead decided to book Mark van Bommel with a pointless yellow card and allow a further minute and a half of added time during which Uruguay laid seige to the Dutch penalty area. Ultimately they couldn’t find the equaliser and putting aside the bizarre ending to the game the Dutch came through another test and march onto the Final on Sunday. 

I’ll be very glad to have van der Wiel back in place of the liability that is Boulahrouz who fouls repeatedly but isn’t sneaky enough to get away with it like van Bommel. I will also be happy to see the return of #8 de Jong. While de Zeeuw ably deputized de Jong has been the most influential player, yes more so than Sneijder, and has consistently propped up the team.  

I can’t decide who I’d rather play in the final. A part of me would choose Spain because they’ve been misfiring and are frustratable (I may have invented a word) by defending well. On the other hand Germany might be preferable because they are not the organized, passing, possession opponents that could stifle the Netherlands. From what I’ve seen of Germany they seem to be playing a counterattacking brand inspired by Schweinsteiger. I have a growing suspicion that de Jong and van Bommel might be able to shackle Khedira and ‘Schweini’ depriving Ozil of his supply. I may watch the replay of Germany/Serbia to see how its’ done. 

Player Ratings 

Stekelenburg – 6 

Boulahrouz – 5 

Heitinga – 6 

Mathijsen – 6 

van Bronckhorst – 7 

de Zeeuw – 6 

van Bommel – 7 

Kuyt – 9 

Sneijder – 8 

Robben – 7 

van Persie – 6 

Subs: van der Vaart – 6, Elia – 5

Our Opponents: Uruguay

Alright time for confession.  Everybody who thought the Oranje would get this far raise your hand!  Ya I thought not, well me neither so don’t feel bad.  Now everyone who thought Uruguay would get this far raise your hand!  Well I did actually but largely due to that side of the draw and the resulting fixtures.  Well done to them though as there is no such thing as an easy quarter-final. 

After Friday’s victory I saw a huge emergence of Dutch fans.  As soon as the final whistle sounded there were cars in the streets and fans on the sidewalks cheering and waving their flags.  I can’t recall ever seeing a display like this from the Dutch fans.

Both teams will be without some key players.  For Uruguay Luis Suarez will be missing because his intentional handball in the quarter-final.  It’s hard to downplay his significance as both he and Forlan have 3 goals a piece. For the Dutch Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel will be missing for picking up their second yellow cards against Brazil.  Boulahrouz is likely to deputize for van der Wiel and while de Jong’s replacement is less concrete it is likely to be Demy de Zeeuw.  Both players are significant in their own roles.  Nigel de Jong has been outstanding and, if you care to look, has consistently been among the best passers in the side.

I’ve unfortunately not seen much of Uruguay up to now but I’m fairly familiar with both the missing Suarez and Forlan.  From a neutral’s perspective you must enjoy Forlan’s determination to thrust Uruguay into the global reckoning.  For some reason is often stricken with an asterisk in terms of quality because of his unsuccessful spell in England though after the displays here it’s obvious what initially attracted Manchester United to the South American.

Up to this point and with the sole exception of last Friday every match they’ve encountered in the last two years has been with the Oranje firmly installed as expected winners.  For the first time the Oranje will enter a match with the added pressure that they could be on their way to…

Let’s agree that we won’t push our luck shall we?

Instead of worrying about what could be let’s just enjoy the highlights of a previous encounter with Uruguay, in 1974 to be exact.  The creator or at least the poster believes that is was the first true glimpse of what became known as Total Football.  One of the best things about this video is the offside trap played by the Dutch, the first example is already at 0:15 of the video and every Dutch player is within 2 meters of the half way line.  To call that aggressive is an understatement.

Post Match Reaction NED v BRA

Evening out there.  I had a little fun earlier posting a Brazilian history lesson that – as I’m sure you’re aware – temporarily at least has a happy ending.  As I’ve been trying to do I’m featuring a brief round-up of the reaction elsewhere and, as always, providing links so you can check it yourself.  There’s a lot of quality opinion out there even though I don’t always agree!

First up is Zonalmarking.net.  Blah blah blah…love this site…blah blah blah…good tactical breakdown.  You’ve heard it before. It’s also worth making the jump to their site if only for the classic picture of Brazil coach Dunga.  The highlights:

  • The focus was on Brazil’s meltdown: “Brazil are out. A dominant first half, a shocking second half – Holland took advantage of their defensive mistakes to record a famous victory.”
  • They attempted to explain the difference between the two halves: “There seemed to be a concious effort to practically give up on attacking the side where Brazil had Maicon-Alves-Gilberto-Lucio, and instead target the side with Juan-Bastos-Melo – often identified as Brazil’s weak point”
  • You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t already know the result so you are aware that the Netherlands were completely successful and ultimately: “It wasn’t a drastic change in formation or personnel, but it effectively (a) nullified Brazil’s strengths and (b) exploited their weaknesses – good tactics if you’re the underdog”

Another favourite and frequent attendee in my round is Foppe de Haan’s blog from OnsOranje.  Foppe de Haan is not someone who expects to see Total Football; he’s a pragmatist in the vein of van Marwijk but he’s not impressed.  His post in reaction to the victory of Brazil was titled: “Oranje were lucky”, lol.

  • He’s not a total downer: “”Of course , it ‘s great that thanks to the Orange 2-1 win over Brazil they’ve reached the semifinals of this World Cup . Really nice , especially because against the Brazilians they played their best match so far”
  • “When you see that first goal go in, that was pure luck” Fairly straightforward, and he’s right.
  • “But thanks to Maarten Stekelenburg , I think the best man on the field, we still lived . He eventually made a really important save, I think a ball from Kaka that he was able to wonderfully tip aside. For me that was really the moment of the match”
  • He finished on a positive note at least: “So let the semi- finals come! I ‘m ready and Oranje is too! ”

Dutchnew.nl has a mini-roundup of their own summarizing the headlines of some of the major papers in the Netherlands.

  • A little confident for me: “‘We are ready to win the World Cup,’ say jubilant Dutch papers”  I prefer a cool head but who am I to stand in the way of the obvious joy we all felt.
  • “Oranje cannot be beaten” is another headline apparently saying the “secret” is that they can’t be beaten.  Not sure its much a secret but okay.
  • Last a weird one that I don’t know what to say about: “The Volkskrant has no news story on its front page, just a half page photo of Dirk Kuijt, Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben with their arms round each other grinning from ear to ear and an unrelated column entitled ‘Telephone sex.'”  Ya, I don’t understand it either.

Coming from an outsider’s view we go to the Sun in England for their take.  The report comes from Steven Howard.

  • I think everyone thought the same: “We never, ever, quite believe it when it happens – even more so yesterday when they appeared to be strolling into yet another semi-final as they strutted off like peacocks at half-time. “
  • While most have been focussing on the Brazilian imposion the Sun saved some praise for the second half Dutch performance: “Confronted by their first real test at this World Cup, they collapsed just as they did against France at the same stage in 2006.  Instead, rejoice for the Dutch. And, in particular, for Sneijder. There may not be much of him – a shade under 5ft 7in – but in terms of modern midfield players he is a colossus.  Probably the finest in the world right now. And one of the greatest bargains of the modern era.”  If the unmentionable happens (I’m not willing to say the words) I’ll have Sneijder #10 on my shirt.
  • “The Dutch, though, march on with the enormous confidence only a victory like this can provide.”
  • Mr. Howard also gives his ratings.  For full ratings make sure you visit the full report via the link provided.  “Stekelenburg 7, Van Der Wiel 7, Heitinga 6, Ooijer 7, Van Bronckhorst 8, Van Bommel 8, De Jong 7, Robben 8, Sneijder 9, Kuyt 8, van Persie 5”  I don’t know if van Persie was quite 5 or van Bronkhorst an 8 but I’m nearly in agreement.

Alright, that’s the best from the best that I’ve seen.  The only thing that matters now is the Semi-Final.  There is absolutely nothing beyond that and we can’t allow ourselves or anyone else to forget that Uruguay is the only oppositions before us.  There could be more but you won’t find anyone talking about what that might be here until the only step that matters has first been taken.

You can look forward to my Semi final preview tomorrow!

Quarter Final Video Love

Can you believe that its been almost 48 hours since we put out Brazil in the quarter finals?  I can’t really come to grips with it and I keep smiling.  Can you remember the last time you were impressed by a Dutch team’s fighting spirit?  I certainly can’t and I think that’s why I’m stilling having trouble believing it.  We took on a superpower and beat them.

Okay Mike, let’s have a little perspective.  Brazil weren’t at their best and it was an error that let the Dutch back into the game.  My point is simple.  I thought as soon as Robinho slid home that lovely goal in the tenth minute the Dutch spirit would be broken.  Up to that point they had been happily trundling along content to nudge opponents out of the way.  It was at this point where adversity pummeled the Oranje that I was near certain it was over.

Shame on me for my lack of faith.  Isn’t it a trademark of good sides that all they need is a door left slightly ajar?  At 1-1 there was much to do and through perserverance and determination not only did they get the second goal they needed but their opponents lost their minds a little bit.

With all the talking done let’s sit back and look at some of the history that was intermingled with Friday’s game.

We start with the 2-0 victory over Brazil in 1974; one of the greatest Dutch sides of all time.  Both of these goals, Neeskens and Cruyff, are without a doubt two of the best from the tournament.  Both seem to typify the type of player the scorer was.  Neeskens with a lung busting run into the box going into a hard challenge for the ball and in doing so lifting it over the keeper and into the net.  Cruyff’s mid-air lunging volley captured his outrageous skill.  Notice also some horrific tackling by the Brazilians…

Next we have the defeat to Brazil in 1994.  Essentially a clinic for awful defending.

Here we see the devastating semi-final loss to Brazil on penalties in 1998.  Likely the best team at the tournament the Oranje thrilled the crowds.  The Dutch are most remembered in 1998 for Dennis Bergkamps spine-tingling 88 minute winner against Argentina.

And last but perhaps most significant of all is Friday’s come from behind victory.  Apologies for the abbreviated highlights but FIFA is making it hard to get a decent video.

Obviously the true significance of the victory will be determined as time goes by.  For now all we can do is enjoy the incredible acheivement and hope there is more to come.

Match Report NED v BRA

I cannot believe it.  I have seen most of the game twice over now.  I still find myself cheering even though I know how it ends.  When Kuyt was put through I still throw my hands up in despair because I can’t believe he didn’t get the third.

I’m thinking back in my life and looking over the great matches or great performances I’ve seen.  I think of Netherlands v Argentina in 1998 with the glorious goals by Kluivert and that goal by Bergkamp followed by Netherlands v Yugoslavia and that ridiculous 4 goal haul by Kluivert.

Today while we saw some great performances it is the fantastic result that stands out.  Can you bloody believe it?  Totally outstanding as a team and Robben and Kuyt were sublime.

As the game began the Dutch were terribly overmatched.  It appeared to the Brazilians were comfortable from the start and it could very well have been 3-0 in the first half.  There was one goal chalked off for offside and while that should have been a warning the Dutch were caught unawares for the opening goal.  The moans from Dutch fans were heard around the world when Mathijsen picked up an injury and was replaced by the bag-o-rice on two pegs Andre Ooijer.  Ooijer was largely at fault for the Brazilian goal as he played Robinho onside and was found unavailable to mark the runner as Heitinga was committed forward.  Credit to Melo though: that pass was out of this world.

The second though!  Wow, can you believe how that turned out?  The Dutch had some early pressure and it paid off as a defensive mistake by Melo and Cesar allowed the Dutch an equaliser.  Sneijder whipped in a cross from the right and both Melo and Cesar went for it with Melo being the unfortunate player who flicked on the ball into his own net.  The equaliser was a basic corner flicked on by Kuyt at the near post to Sneijder who whilst standing in the area was able to direct a good header past Cesar.

From then on the Brazilians seemed completely out of the match.  While they continued to push forward the could not find a way past the Dutch and Kuyt and Robben both enjoyed a lot of room down the flanks – something this writer didn’t dare to dream of twenty-four hours ago.   Critically the Brazilians were reduced to 10 men with about 20 minutes to go when Felipe seemingly lost the plot and took a kick at Robben as he went down under a foul.  Really strange stuff but this effectively killed off the game as a contest and allowed the Dutch to breathe and settle within themselves.

 It should have been 4 though with Kuyt being put through but appearing to be completely exhausted and unable to muster a proper shot.  A better chance was offered much later with three Dutch players standing – yes standing – in a triangle around the keeper yet somehow managing to not score.

Let’s be honest: I’m over the moon.  This result is without a doubt one of the greatest I can recall.  How far can they go?

Player ratings

Stekelenburg – 8

van der Wiel – 7

Heitinga – 6

Ooijer – 5

van Bronkhorst – 6

de Jong – 6

van Bommel – 7

Robben – 9

Sneijder – 8

Kuyt – 9

van Persie – 7