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Our Opponents: Brazil

It certainly seems like a different tournament now.  Of course I can only speak for myself but from this morning onwards I haven’t been able to shake a feeling of trepidation.  I just don’t know what to expect!

I’ve made my case about the current squad’s style of play but at this point I’m left scratching my head as to how this will lend itself to tomorrow’s game against Brazil.  In truth I’ve heard very few people who believe the Netherlands can win. 

I know what’s causing my hesitation but I’m afraid to admit it.  It’s the lack of attacking spark from the Dutch.  I’ve tried to be very positive about their performances because I have seen a lot of good things about the shape of the side, the mentality of the side and the overall results.  After watching a couple of the Brazil games it seems the South American’s are more comfortable in their own skin with more chances being taken. 

The Dutch have for the most part been comfortable but at times in matches the team appears too comfortable and allow oppositions back into the match.  The win against Slovakia should be a warning as for large parts of the second half the Dutch allowed Slovakia to make inroads and Maarten Stekelenburg was called into true action for the first time in this tournament.

Tactics

We can be fairly sure of the starting lineup on Friday.  As much as everyone has been calling for two wingers in order to pin back the Brazilian fullbacks its highly unlikely van Marwijk will begin with Kuyt on the left and Robben on the right as he did against Slovakia. 

Brazil also have an established line up and only injury concerns are forcing changes for Dunga.  There is no doubt Brazil will actually attack as opposed to Japan and Denmark.  Samuel Eto’o in the group stage and the in-from Vittek for Slovakia were good practice for the back line but the true danger comes from Kaka and Robinho who will be moving between the Dutch midfielders and central defenders. 

For the Dutch to be successful they will have to come out of their shells to a certain degree when attacking.  They have been very disciplined when defending and provided de Jong and van Bommel can marshall Kaka and pick up any runs from deep they will be able to realistically look to win the match.  Given that Brazil will not be looking to merely shut down the Dutch there should be space with which the Dutch can create opportunities.

Personalities

For the Dutch Arjen Robben is the key man.  He will be looking to exploit the inexperience and suspect defending of Brazilian leftback Bastos.

For Brazil Kaka will have the spotlight firmed planted on him.  Playing a similar role to Sneijder on the other end of the pitch Kaka will need to link well with his midfielders and Fabiano if the Samba boys are going to have any success.

Key matchups

Bastos versus Robben.  Kaka versus de Jong.  Kuyt/van Bronckhorst versus Alves/Maicon.

Predictions

I’ve always been told that I don’t have to do anything that I don’t want to do.  One of those things is to predict the outcome of this match because truly I can’t grasp it!  I think I’ve come up with a way to squeak out without really committing myself.  I have no idea who will win.  What I do is how the game will play out defending on the result.

If the Dutch win the game will go this way: Brazil will be stifled, struggling to create chances and the Dutch will successfully convert a half chance or two.  The Dutch may come to life late on the match as belief because solidified: 2-0

If the Brazilians win we will see a game (I can’t believe I’m saying this) similar to the North Korea match where for long periods Brazil were frustrated but their quality up front eventually finds a way through the as yet untested Dutch defense: 3-1

An alternate tactical preview can be found at Zonalmarking.net

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Our Opponents: Slovakia

Alas my friends I am unable to create a full match preview ahead of the 2nd round game for the Dutch against Slovakia.

Quickly I have a few points

1) I hope Arjen Robben plays. Whether on the right or the left I hope I don’t see van der Vaart on the team sheet. Will it happen? I’m doubtful

2) The Dutch need to focus on this game and not Brazil. Euro 92 the Dutch forgot to focus on the game at hand, ie Denmark, and were dumped out of the tournament.

3)The Dutch need to come out flying trying to make an immediate impact instead of waiting later on in the matches as we’ve seen in the previous 3 matches.

For a more complete match preview have a look at my favourite football-geek website Zonalmarking.net.

Full match report to come later this evening!

Match Report NED v CMR

Evening all.  We’re all finished with the Group Stage and its difficult to point out too many flaws.  The Oranje came into the match needing merely a point to set up a second round date with Slovakia on Monday.  I’m trying my best to ignore the utter and complete failure of Italy and allow them to grieve.  I will not point and laugh.  Despite the close scoreline the Dutch were not unduly tested however Cameroon certainly played differently than both Japan and Demark.  Had this match come earlier and providing Cameroon came out with similar designs we may well have seen an utter rout.

In the end goals from van Persie in the first half and a second by Huntelaar late in the final frame were enough to ease the Netherlands clear with nine points from three games.  In between the Indominatable Lions had equalised through a Samuel Eto’o penalty after van der Vaart handled a free kick inside the area.  Bert van Marwijk will be pleased van der Vaart contributed to van Persie’s goal but overall his match was sub-standard once again.

Tactical Analysis

Prior to the Dutch substitutions the Oranje came out in much a similar fashion as the previous two matches.  Van der Vaart started on the left, Kuyt on the right, van Persie up front and Sneijder through the middle.  It seemed the Dutch had been given instructions to use the flanks more often as most of their good work in the first half came from deep crosses from Kuyt and van Bronckhorst.  Also, there was good running to the byline often by Sneijder.  With the Cameroon midfield and attack more advanced that Japan and Denmark there was additional space provided to Sneijder and van der Vaart in the middle. 

As a testament to van der Vaart’s inability to effectively play on the left consider that his assist to van Persie came from the right side of penalty area.  Having the left-footed van der Vaart on the left should mean he is at least running downfield putting in crosses but by comparing him with Kuyt you can see that Rafael isn’t comfortable crossing on the fly and he is repeatedly forced to hold up the run and play in either the on rushing leftback van Bronckhorst or look for Sneijder closer to the centre.

Van der Vaart would be an adequate replacement for Sneijder however he has been played to the detriment of the squad when utilized on the left.  As a special point of pleasure for me there were several instances of Kuyt and Sneijder tracking Cameroon players running from deep when on the attack.  I’ve been impressed with van Marwijk’s ability to get all players on board with the overall plan.

Robben Verdict

To the delight of all Arjen Robben made is long awaited return from injury.  He showed why he is a vital player to the Dutch providing direct running, challenging fullbacks, occupying the defenders concentration and providing a genuine goal threat. 

His best moment was his involvement for the second goal.  Sneijder’s sumptuous pass was well controlled on the right by Robben and after checking his run he came back towards midfield, glided past his marker and let loose a perfect curling shot that thumped the post.  His shot came back fortuitously for Huntelaar who was able to slot home.  It’s telling that the team ran to congratulate Robben in the centre allowing Huntelaar to enjoy his moment alone on the touchline.

Player Ratings

Stekelenburg – 6

Boulahrouz – 5

Heitinga – 6

Mathijsen – 6

van Bronckhorst – 7

de Jong – 6

van Bommel – 7

Kuyt – 7

Sneijder – 8

van der Vaart – 6

van Persie – 8

Subs: Elia – 5,  Huntelaar – 6, Robben – 7

Look ahead to Round 2

Going into the second day of competition for Group F all four teams were equal.  One point a piece, one goal scored and one goal conceded.  Saturday saw Group E eliminate Cameroon and guarantee the Dutch a spot in the second round.

Given the vital nature of this second set of matches for Group F I thought we would an opportunity to look at the possible opposition the Dutch would face in the second round.  Paraguay comforably won their match against Slovakia by two goals.  Italy and New Zealand clashed in the second game, the Kiwis taking a shock lead and Italy equalising through a dubious penalty.

Paraguay

Paraguay are one of the impressive South American participants who have maintained the status quo while the rest of Europe seems to be wilting under pressure.  Their match against Slovakia served to prove what we already knew about them.  They are an attacking side unlike many of the underdogs we have seen thus far who seek to cut out passing lanes and frustrate opponents.  Paraguay consistently look to get forward and score goals rather than prevent them from being scored.

Much of their impetus comes from the wings, again something that really only Chile has done so far.  In Santa Cruz they have an experienced centre forward who can ably hold up when necessary and can also take a scoring opportunity when called upon.  The first goal today came from a lovely piece of passing completed by a deft finish: both things the Dutch have not seen thus far.

Paraguay were certainly good value for their win and have played the best football in the group thus far.

The Other Team

As for the other team who the Dutch could face well…I can’t be sure.  I was expecting to write about Italy but after their draw with New Zealand I can’t really be sure.

Conventional wisdom says Italy will win their match against Slovakia and New Zealand are unlikely to get full points against Paraguay but who can say for sure?

I want to say that the Dutch would be able to comfortably handle New Zealand should the unthinkable happen and they make it through but you just can’t write them off.  That said the Dutch have attacking power unlike anything that exists in Group F.

The Italians while certainly organized have lacked any cutting edge and killer instinct.  I think that if they meet the Dutch in the next round and the Oranje are able to execute their plan of possession football the Italians will be beaten.  In truth the Dutch haven’t been stretched or even truly tested.  They have only been made to wait thus far and that will not last as they progress through the tournment.

The Dutch are expected to move past the second round.  Initially Italy were not expected but they look now to be the more likely opponents and the Dutch will need to be at their best if they are going to add to the Azzurri’s misery.