Twenty-four of the 32 teams that participated in this year’s World Cup are finished. Now it’s now time for soccer’s elite to clash. Sure, England-Germany and Spain-Portugal are great matchups, but they’re about to be topped — by a lot.
In the marquee quarterfinal matchup this Friday, world No. 1 Brazil will have its hands full against fourth- ranked Holland. Despite having amongst the greatest of traditions in the sport, these two titans of soccer history are trying to escape from their respective pasts.
In Brazil, soccer fanatics (everyone) don’t just expect victory every time they play. They expect their team to win in a way that typifies “the beautiful game.” Basically, Brazilians want to see their team win every game 5-0.
Their squad, though, has adopted a different strategy this time around. Team manager Dunga, a defensive midfielder in his playing days, has decided to employ a strategy known as the counterattack. In short, playing “the counter” means ceding possession of the ball to the opponent, sitting back on defense and waiting for the other team to spread itself thin by attacking, and finally pouncing on a turnover and sprinting down the field like a fast break in basketball.
Clearly, the tactic has worked well as Brazil has absolutely crushed each of its opponents up to this point (except Portugal, in a match that saw both teams playing for a draw) and conceded just one goal. In fact, Dunga has been smart to play to his team’s strength, the backline, comprised of superstars Maicon, Lucio, Dani Alves and goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Kaka (whose full name is six names long, none of which is “Kaka”), Brazil’s principal playmaker on offense, has underwhelmed since joining Real Madrid this past season. Robinho, Brazil’s striker also has struggled since his move to Manchester City in 2009.
This Brazil team simply isn’t meant to “samba” like Ronaldinho (who has been so out of shape that he isn’t even on the team) or score beautiful goals like Pele, the greatest player of all time.
But they sure can win.
Then again, so can the Netherlands, which is one of two teams with a perfect 4-0 mark so far in South Africa. Crazy as it may sound, Holland actually has more talent than its upcoming opponent. Known as “Clockwork Oranje” for their unparalleled precision in passing, the Dutch have one of the world’s proudest football heritages as well.
Generally regarded as the Dan Marinos of soccer — the best to never win a title — the Dutch are inventors of so-called “total football,” in which each player on the field is capable of adopting any position. You may have seen players turn their backs to defenders and quickly dribble around them, but such was not always a part of soccer. That move was invented by Dutchman Johan Cruyff, widely regarded as the second-greatest player of all time, in the 1970s.
As in Brazil, the Dutch fanatics (also everyone in their country) have been displeased with their team’s defensive style, employing two defensive midfielders instead of one. Also like Brazil, Holland has conceded just one goal (and it was a penalty kick). In contrast to its upcoming opponents, though, Holland’s strength rests on the attack with sniper Wesley Sneijder and dribbling magician Arjen Robben.
Look for Holland to control the ball and try to use its precision and creativity to crack the world’s toughest nut, but beware, a beautiful Dutch attack could turn into a Steve Nash-esque fast break for Brazil in just a matter of seconds.
Over the years, heartbreak has perhaps been “clockwork” for the Dutch, as they have twice lost in the World Cup Finals, but maybe, just maybe, their overwhelming talent and newfound outlook will move them toward reversing that trend against the vaunted Brazilians.
Then again, only a crazy person would ever pick against Brazil.
Prediction: Brazil 3, Holland 2 – after extra time.