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FIFA World Cup: Brazil v Netherlands - Quarter-Final Preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

A dream match-up in Port Elizabeth between the world No.1 ranked Brazilian side and the No.4 ranked Netherlands.

Brazil have done what they have to do without the normal level of hype that has surrounded past Brazilian teams and the Dutch team has not performed with the level of flair that their fans would like but are the only team along with Argentina who have won every game so far. There are fans of many sides that have been knocked out of the tournament who would love to have had their team playing like the Netherlands.

This is a fascinating clash between the steadier defence orientated European game and the South America ultra slow/fast game that has more in common with the samba rhythm than a structured game plan. It will provide a good pointer to the outcome of the Germany v Argentina Quarterfinal being played the next day. In the head to head contests between Brazil and the Netherlands there is surprisingly not much in it. 3 wins to Brazil (one of them on penalties) and 2 for the Netherlands, with 4 draws. Brazil has scored 14 goals to the Netherlands 13.
It has been a long time since a Dutch side has caught the football world's imagination and this team has certainly gone under the radar. Their form cannot be denied though. With 8 wins on the trot in qualifying and 4 so far at the tournament they will provide a stern test for a Brazilian team that is probably benefiting from Argentina hogging more of the headlines (and some of the favouritism).
The Netherlands have not tasted defeat in their last 23 games. We have to go back to September 2008 to a 1:2 loss to Australia (of all teams) to find the last time they were beaten. Brazil is only on a 10 match unbeaten run. 
Much has been said of the South American strength so far in this tournament. Only once has a European team not taken the field in a World Cup Final. Given that heavyweights Brazil and Argentina are on the opposite side of the draw from each other and either Portugal or Spain are going to be going home after their round of 16 fixture, there is a real possibility that we might have an all South American final for the first time since the original World Cup back in 1930 (Brazil came 2nd to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup but the winner was decided by the top 4 teams playing a round-robin).
One thing this tournament has lacked so far is a standout player whose individual brilliance has lit up footballs biggest showcase. At this stage there is no shortage of world class players on display who are putting in excellent performances, but no one has yet stamped their class and risen above the pack. The golden boot contest has an almost socialist look to it with 11 players from teams still alive in the tournament all within 2 goals of each other. There is still time though for another player to put their hand up (maybe not like Maradona did in Mexico) and claim lasting fame as the player of the Tournament and join the likes of Pele, Kempes, Cruyff, Rossi, Maradona and Ronaldo.
The return of Arjen Robben has been a huge boost for the Dutch. His goal against Slovakia was top class. He joins an in-form forward line of Van Persie, Sneijder and Kuyt who are a good match for Robinho and Fabiano. Brazil has managed to see off a well performed Chilean team in the Round of 16 in convincing style. Like Robben for the Dutch the return of Kaka from suspension has been a big morale boost for Brazil.
Brazil has put in 8 goals in the tournament so far and only conceded 2. The Netherlands have scored 7 and conceded 2. So just like the overall head to head record there is not much between these two sides. How well the teams implement the game plan that Van Marwijk and Dunga will map out for them as well as the timing and impact of fresh legs off the bench will be the deciding factor.
So who is going to win? My head says Brazil but my heart says the Netherlands but this is really too close to call. Perhaps it will come down to a bung refereeing decision like many other games? I fancy the Netherlands if it comes down to a penalty shootout. Another factor is the match conditions. At least being down at seas level in Port Elizabeth might mean the jabulani ball might behave itself a little better than on the high veldt, but there is the added possibility of rain on the coast which will probably favour the Dutch as well.
Bring it on. These classic match-ups are the icing on the cake and the reward for sitting through some often dull pool games in the opening week of the competition.

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