28 June 2010

World Cup 2010, Match Day 18

Once again, I missed good parts of these matches with remora duty. But they did have a common theme: A confident, well-organized, high-skill team toying with an opponent without quite enough justification. In the first match (Netherlands 2:1 Slovakia), the vastly superior Netherlands tried playing with its food and could, on a different day, have suffered an embarassing draw leading to extra time. The Dutch 'keeper bailed out some sloppy defending more than once.

In the evening (afternoon, CDT) match, Brazil never really got out of second gear... but that was sufficient to reach a 3:0 result over Chile. At least Chile came out and tried to take the game to Brazil for the first fifteen minutes or so, but Chile never looked as dangerous as Slovakia had earlier, while the Brazilians just brought too much offensive swagger and extravagent individual skill. Once Chile stopped to take a breath, the Brazilians were mercilous for a few moments in killing off the match.

The one interesting thing about these two matches today is that both of the winning sides revealed virtually identical tactical flaws: They are prone to leaving their outside defenders isolated. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the delicious Netherlands v. Brazil quarterfinal coming up... because Brazil's outside defenders are better attackers than are the Dutch, but conversely the Dutch outside defenders are individually better at defense. Both teams play a very similar 2-7-1 system, with two out of the midfield mob freely playing all across the front just behind that single striker. And, in a way, that system betrays national stereotypes for each team that have been out of date for at least a decade: The Dutch haven't played a flat back four since the early 1990s, and the famed "attacking fullbacks" disappeared from the Brazilian national team after the 1994 World Cup (and their defensively suspect successors were viciously exploited by the French in 1998... and the US last year at the Confederations Cup).

It should be a fascinating match. If it ends up in penalties, my Euro is on the Dutch: I have not been as impressed by Júlio César in the Brazilian goal as the commentators have, and particularly not on the basis of today's matches.