Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Dutch Drudgery

As the Round of 16 continued this morning, we saw one encounter in which pragmatism won out over exuberance, and an earlier one in which pragmatism won out over less effective pragmatism.

Holland v. Slovakia

For the first hour this match was unremittingly tedious; even Arjen Robben's highly characteristic goal had an air of inevitability about it. The Dutch shuffled the ball around the midfield unambitiously as they have done so often during this tournament, and the Slovaks appeared resigned to their fate even before the goal. The game briefly came to life soon after the hour with two good chances for Miroslav Stoch and Robert Vittek, both of which required good saves from Maarten Stekelenburg, but once Dirk Kuyt had taken advantage of some slack Slovak defending to lay on the second for Wes Sneijder, it was no longer a contest.

For Slovakia, despite their progression from the group stage, it was a fairly unimpressive tournament showing. The coach's son failed to kick on from his bright performance in the opening game, and the failure of Stoch and above all Marek Hamsik to impose themselves at all on any of the matches tells its own story.

For the Dutch, it was another story of getting the desired result with the minimum of fuss. Bert van Marwijk's team have yet to be tested at all seriously in this tournament, but that will certainly change against Brazil...and perhaps the ease of their progression to the quarter-finals might end up working against them.

Brazil v. Chile

For a little while, with Chile joyously throwing themselves into attack, it looked like an upset might be on the cards. True, most of the knowledgeable pundits had tagged Chile as Brazil's ideal opponent at this stage, a team that would push forward to give them the space in behind in which Dunga's side thrives. But Brazil did seem genuinely rattled in the first fifteen minutes.

One felt, though, that Chile had to make something of their temporary initiative if they were going to pull it off. They didn't, Brazil settled, the corners came for the side in yellow with ever greater frequency, and eventually they hit paydirt from one of them. Then, as Argentina did against Mexico, they scored an excellent second which demonstrated their methods perfectly. The header on from Luis Fabiano, Robinho's surge down the wing, and finally Kaka's neat little prod through to the man who started the move and finished it adroitly. Game over.

Alexis Sanchez, Chile's star, was blunted cleverly by the Brazilians. Michel Bastos, who did much better than expected, stuck close to the Chilean winger, and on the rare occasions when Bastos ventured upfield the impressive Ramires was there to close down. Dunga's tactics were so effective that for a fifteen-minute period at the beginning of the second half Sanchez barely got a touch; when he finally found himself on the ball again, he gave it away immediately. It was strange, with this in mind, that Sanchez didn't switch over to the left, with Maicon much more committed to getting forward. It never happened, and as a result Chile's main supply line never functioned.

Brazil v. Holland in the quarters...a match between two smash-and-grab sides likely to feel each other out for a considerable period. Both have looked ominously impressive so far; perhaps the Brazilians are slightly to be favoured, but there shouldn't be more than a goal in it either way.

Mike, 99% of the time I either think your analysis is spot on or feel too ignorant to know better. But I cannot agree, even a little bit, even in a careful retrospective stretching of my mind, that Brazil was 'rattled' by Chile, even for a second.

I saw a cat playing with a mouse. Chile did attack bravely, and Jacob and I were hoping for an early Chile goal just because then Brazil would have gotten going earlier. But to me Brazil's game, in the first 10 minutes, was one of the most sublime demonstrations of control I've ever seen.

Can anyone defeat this machine? If they keep turning it on like that, I doubt it.
You're probably right. I just thought that if Chile could score in that brief period at the beginning when they were on top, they could have gone on from there. And they did come close a couple of times.

Was genuinely hoping for an upset in this one, even though I'd picked Brazil to win the thing prior to the WC. I've really enjoyed watching Chile in this tournament. Bielsa produces great attacking sides, but they can be a little naive (cf. Argentina in 2002, who were actually a much better side than they were made to look by the results).

Agree with you about Brazil. They are going to be incredibly tough to beat.
Chile impressively got to 2-2 against a 10-man Brazil in Brazil last year in WCQ, but still couldn't go on with it (lost 4-2)... The two qualifiers between the two and this morning's game has just been frustrating as hell to watch from a Chilean POV.
I was also going to say that, kind of like Hamish, I failed to get anything like as excited about Chile's bright opening as Dave Woods seemed to be. Brazil had seen it all before pretty much. Kind of wish three teams could've progressed from Group H and Brazil had to play Switzerland lol.
Chile was missing some key defenders through (unwarranted?) suspension. The opening goal may not have occured as it did with them playing.

Savvas Tzionis
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