Football Station

Wing It – Netherlands v. Brazil Preview




July 2nd, 2010

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

With no games today and no games tomorrow, the footballing world is left twiddling its thumbs and (if their side is still in the competition) throwing up a Hail Mary or two.  The competition was been slashed from 32 teams to 8, sending 24 squads packing home.  Saturday brings two world heavy weights and two relative underdogs toe to toe in the competition.  South America is represented in every one of the Quarterfinals (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, & Uruguay) , while Europe has three in Germany, Netherlands and Spain.  With the world’s finest footballers sharing the same field this weekend, there are bound to be fireworks.


Football purists are drooling over this tie and for good reason.  Bayern Munich team mates Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben take the field against the Inter Milan defensive trio of Lucio, Maicon and Julio Cesar – whom they faced in the Champions League Final.

There isn’t much between the two sides, and it will be down to the wire on Saturday as Wesley Sneijder leads the Dutch against Kaká and the South Americans.  Brazil’s back line is deceptively versatile as it can turn all out defense to attack in seconds through the speedy outside backs who love to get in on the action.  Brazil have conceded only 2 goals in the tournament while scoring 8.  Both of the goals allowed came late against Brazil after they had seemingly won the game, which could be a warning sign that they could be more vulnerable towards the 90 minute mark.  Still, their squad’s overall solidity is nearly absurd, as they are all bonafide stars.  The spine of the team is Julio Cesar, Lucio, Kaká and Luis Fabiano.  Don’t tell me that doesn’t just bring a tear to your eye.

Robben will be hoping to expose Michel Bastos on Saturday.

Netherlands are a similar story, as they have also conceded only 2 goals but have scored 7 times, one less than the Brazilians.  They possess some of the trickiest wingers in the world with not only Arjen Robben, but Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel, as well.  Their strike force is almost second to none with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and their wingers frequently getting in on the action.  The Dutch flex their attacking menace insanely well and like to have Sneijder pulling the strings behind the strikers and spraying the ball wide for Robben and Dirk Kuyt to play with.  The former loves to cut in on his left foot and let fly from outside the box, and past experiences against Fiorentina in the Champions League and Slovakia just a few days ago will tell us he is more capable than anyone at making that cut pay dividends.

Key matchups are all over the field, as it happens when world class opponents face each other.  Take your pick.

Robben vs. Bastos.

Van Persie vs. Lucio.

Fabiano vs. Heitinga.

Felipe Melo vs. Sneijder.

Kaká vs. De Jong.

If you had to pick a weak spot in the tie, it might be the Dutch back line.  Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst is 35 and can be exposed by pace, as he will surely meet against Robinho and Luis Fabiano.  Joris Mathijsen is a sturdy central defender but, like his captain, is susceptible to trickery and the more fleet footed.  Also, Stekelenberg is a great keeper, but he will be up against one

The little magician certainly has some tricks up his sleeve.

of the top attacking lines in the world and might fall victim to a slew of Brazilian shots.  Also, the Dutch are perennial chokers.  They are known to cruise through qualifying, breeze past formidable opponents, only to fall to lesser ones.  Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat it self and we are in for a real game.

If anybody on the Dutch squad can expose inexperience, it’s Arjen Robben.  Luckily for the Europeans, he will be matched up against one of the least experienced Brazilians in Michel Bastos.  While the Lyon full back is a very capable defensive player, he hasn’t face as much attacking power thus far in South Africa (and that’s saying something after coming out of Group G).

Also, the atmosphere for this game should be off the charts.  The famous Oranje supporters meet the world renowned Brazilian maniacs who live and die by their national team’s results.  Hopefully we can hear some songs now (considering that there isn’t an African team playing) other than the dull drone of the vuvuzelas.

Hopefully, Dunga and Bert van Marwijk will be looking to win the game, rather than trying not to lose.

This game will be made in the wings.  Robinho and Robben hold the keys to a game that will be poised on a knife edge.


Brazil 2 – 1 Netherlands (after extra time)


Drab Draw in Durban

Brazil and Portugal played out a rather tame 0-0 draw in Durban, which sees Brazil finish top of the group and Portugal as runner up.  The full effect of the result will not be felt until Group H plays later today and they figure out who is advancing into the knockout stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo shows Gilberto Silva some love.

Portugal coach Carlos Quieroz interestingly rested Simao, Hugo Almeida, Liedson, and Deco, while Brazilian manager Dunga took this game to rest Robinho and Elano.  With Deco, Simao and Robinho out of action, it meant there was a serious lack of creativity from both sides, even with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Fabiano starting.

The story of the first half was Mexican referee Benito Archundia Tellez, who issued 7 yellow cards in the first 45 minutes (record of the tournament).  So what promised to be a action packed second half with a red card looming, the man in the middle didn’t award a single yellow card! Somebody must have given him a talking to at the interval.

Brazil carved out the first set of chances, as they dominated possession 71% to Portugal’s 29%.  Luis Fabiano had an open header 4 yards from goal and somehow skewed it wide, while Nilmar was in on goal at an angle and blasted a shot which Portuguese keeper Eduardo knocked into the post and out into safety.

Portugal looked the deadliest with Ronaldo on the ball, as he ghosted past defenders but he rarely got the help he needed in the final third.  He was often left shooting wide, crossing to nobody or just losing out to the physical Brazilian defense.  One of the best chances for Portugal was after Ronaldo stormed the box, slid the ball across the face of goal but it was just beyond the reach of Danny.

What the first half promised the second more than failed to deliver.  It dealt any onlooker a cheap shot.  It hardly did anything.  Both teams seemed content with a draw and played some lackluster football.  But, let’s be honest, what do they really have to play for?  They have no idea where Spain will end up, and that is the only team in Group H that they will really be trying to avoid.  One can only assume La Roja will take top spot, but, as this tournament has proven, that is nowhere near guaranteed.

If these two teams want to make more noise in the knockout rounds, they’ll need to start playing with more flair, deception and unpredictability.  After Simao was brought on, Portugal found a great outlet in the winger and he was at the heart of most moves forward.  Robinho would have been a great substitute, but, like we said before, why risk it? Both teams are through and Spain could end up anywhere in the group…even rock bottom if the chips fall right.

Powerhouse Party – Group G

Group G –


North Korea

Ivory Coast


You can’t help but feel kind of sorry for the North Koreans.  They finally come out of hiding, and we promptly stick them in the “Group of Death”.   That’ll teach them to try and socialize with the world.  Group D has been called the “Group of Death”, and I can understand the logic in that.  But come on…there’s just no way around the fact that this is easily the toughest group to advance from.  Brazil, the Ivory Coast and Portugal would normally be shoo-in’s to advance to the knockout round, but instead they are thrown into a pit and told to slug it out for the top two spots.  And that’s exactly what they’ll do…

Portugal –

Being seeded in the 4th pot, along with France, certainly created the potential for a Group of Death.  However, the stars aligned

How far can Ronaldo take Portugal in the "Group of Death"?

for a group like this.  When you look at all the teams in Pot 4, there are only two teams that could create a power group, and in Pot 3, the strongest team, without too much of an argument is the Ivory Coast.  Who are the two teams on everybodys’ lips when talking about the real potential to win?  Spain…and Brazil.  Portugal doesn’t come packing pea-shooters though.  They’ve obviously got the 2008 World Player of the Year, Simao & Nani running laps around outside backs on the wings, Deco pulling strings in the middle and Ricardo Carvalho snuffing things out in the back with Jose Bosingwa and Bruno Alves for company.  They certainly have the talent to take them out of the group, however, there is a serious disliking of the manager Carlos Quieroz.  According to the players, he acts like a “teacher” and forces them to watch hours of game footage, and suddenly, the chipper atmosphere left by Scolari is all but gone.  In his formation, however, Ronaldo is played in a free role behind the striker (likely Hugo Almeida), and that, for any team, is a major concern.  Explosive and dangerous, Ronaldo could single handedly carry the Portuguese to the next round.

Ivory Coast –

Losing Didier Drogba is a huge blow to the Elephants, despite reports he still might make the World Cup.  The Ivory Coast’s international website issued a statement, “He’s not at all out of the World Cup. He can still play. We don’t know if he will be able to play the first game — that depends on the verdict of the medical team. But he’s definitely not out [of the tournament].”  Well that’s great news, as they are arguably the most talented African side at the World Cup, and had a serious chance of making some noise in the later rounds.  That said, without Drogba, the Elephants still have some stomping power.  With Salomon Kalou (no Drogba, obviously, but up to snuff), the young Gervinho, The Toure brothers, Sevilla’s Didier Zokora and Emmanuel Eboue there is more than enough potential for them to rough up the Portuguese maybe even the Brazilians.  They have good attacking flair ont he wings in Gervinho and Abdul Kader Keita (of Galatasaray), and should be able to supply Kalou and whoever partners him up top.  However, it will be hard for him to create an aerial threat against the sound Brazilian back line.  If Drogba has any chance of playing in the World Cup, The Elephants will need to find a way to progress into the later rounds.

North Korea

There isn’t a lot of info on North Korea, which I guess is explained by the fact that Kim Jong-Il has shut them off from the world.  What we do know is that they are very paranoid and are hardly answering any questions at press conferences.  Jong-Il also told the nation that they will only get word of the team’s results if they win…it’s going to be a quiet summer.  They haven’t appeared at a World Cup in 44 years since they debuted in England.  However, it turns out that they stormed into the quarterfinals amidst low expectations.  Can they emulate that kind of form and motivation?  Time will tell.  They do play a relatively tight defense, allowing only 7 goals in 16 games, which isn’t too shabby at all.  Tae-Se Jong is their leading scorer and plays his game in Japan with Kawasaki Frontale, and their captain Yong-Jo Hong plays professionally in Russia at FC Rostov.  Their best bet at getting any points will be to outmaneuver the Ivory Coast, out-jinx the Portuguese and…forget Brazil.  These guys are just happy to be here.

Brazil –

Coach and former player Dunga has fashioned El Selecao into quite the machine.  They flow effortlessly from defense into attack

Julio Cesar has been one of the best 'keepers in the world this year and is coming off of a Champions League Final win.

and their counterattacks are clean, crisp and awesome.  Their passing is creative and can cut open defenses before they know where the ball is.  Need proof? Glad you asked… I won’t gush about Brazil, but their chances of winning are pretty decent if they can keep themselves healthy mentally and physically.  With stars dropping like flies and being rushed into our Sick Ward, Dunga will want to take extra special care of his boys.  The spine of the team lies: Julio Cesar, Lucio, Kaká, Luis Fabiano.  All four are masters at their craft and will need an off day to be caught out by a better opponent.  The only ones who look likely to do it could be Nani and Ronaldo of Portugal and Drogba (if he gets fit) of the Ivory Coast.  In midfield, despite the fact that Felipe Melo is having a drab season at Juventus, he has been pretty consistent on international duty.  On attack, it’s almost silly to start, because they attack from all over.  Melo holds down the center of midfield while Kaká, Robinho and Elano all try to feed the ball to Luis Fabiano.  All this to say, they aren’t untouchable.  They lost to Bolivia and Paraguay on the road in qualification and may struggle playing in the colder temperatures of South Africa, as it is winter.  Other than that though, they finished 9-7-2 with a goal difference of +22, meaning when they won, they won big.  Can they claim another World Cup in South Africa?  I wouldn’t bet against it.


1.  Brazil

2. Ivory Coast

3. Portugal

4. North Korea

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the United States in South Africa

United States Coach Bob Bradley took a seat Sunday night, frazzled and hazy eyed, and asked himself three words, “What just happened?”.

After falling to Italy 3 – 1 and Brazil 3 – 0, the United States looked dead and buried.  The other results unfolded as such that only if Brazil beat Italy by three goals or more at the same time we achieved the same feat over an Egyptian side who beat the Italians 1 – 0 and only fell to the South Americans on a controversial TV replay penalty call late in the game.

Against, literally, all odds, we progressed through to the knockout stage with a rejuvenated display to trounce Egypt and thanked our lucky stars the Brazilians put on a clinic for the Italians.

Spain, our next task, was monstrous to understate.  Going on a 35 match unbeaten run, coming off a Euro 2008 victory and fresh off cruising through their group, Spain seemed to have one foot in the final.  A magic turn from Altidore on his Villareal team mate, shocked the footballing world.  Under pressure for the next hour, the United States was finally functioning like a unit as they defended the merciless attack of the Spaniards.  Due to some Sergio Ramos’s defensive error and Dempsey’s quick feet, we, again, shocked everybody.

Once more, we defied the odds.

The Brazil game told itself.  We put in a hell of a run, but came up short in our first International Final ever.

Like Bob said, “what happened?”

How did the United States slip through a group oozing talent, slide by International giants, Spain, and come so close to repeating the feat against Brazil in South Africa?  What can we take away from our historic run?  What’s best left forgotten?  I’m getting there…

e Good
The United States finally functions as a unit.

  1. Tim Howard & Co. put in some historic performances in South Africa.  Thank God for Jonathon Spector.  I have all the respect in the world for Hejduk, but I don’t think he could have handled the likes of Villa, Riera, Robinho and Kaká the way Spector did.  Jay Demerit is a wrecking ball.  End of.  Watching him play againt the Spanish and Brazilians was great, especially since he was there due to injury.  Onyewu, to me, has been a great player for a little while.  He’s physical, great in the air and isn’t afraid to go in hard.  How many times did we watch him clear the ball out from an early cross or a corner?  How often did we watch Jay Demerit make a ten yard sprint and throw his body into the ball?  Tim Howard writes his own assessment.  It might have been after the low save he made on Robinho in the first half, where he got up and was smiling ear to ear like a school boy at practice.  He was loving life.
  2. Our midfield finally got the rust out of the gears and got things moving.  I’m a huge Michael Bradley convert.  He tackles, scores and gets red carded a ton(albeit unfairly at times).  I would like to go on the record for saying, “Ricardo Clark isn’t up to snuff.”  Too often, I forget he’s on the field, and too often, he gives the ball away.  But this is the good section, so I’ll move on.  Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey came through HUGE.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a big Donovan fan.  I’ve always thought he could play, but off the field he sounds like a jerk.  The way he dismissed Jozy’s hat trick in qualifiers and his comments about Bayern Munich as opposed to the MLS really got me going (granted Bayern Munich is a better outfit than an MLS team..there’s a degree of respect you have to show for them).  That being said, he played so unselfishly, I actually got mad at him for not shooting and taking the chance himself.  But when he did take his chances, he came through (turning Luizao and slotting the goal anyone?).  I don’t know how many times he stormed down the field in open space flanked by Dempsey, Altidore, or Davies and laid it off perfectly for them in space.  He’s a regular Chris Paul…but white. Dempsey finally shrugged off the burden of people labelling his international play as sub par.  He wriggled out of so many situations on that right touchline.  Not to mention, he scored several key goals for our boys.  I don’t know how Feilhaber isn’t starting over Clark.  He is miles ahead of him – he’s creative, smart and a walk-on at UCLA (believe it).
  3. Jozy Altidore earned his stripes in South Africa.  To me, he’s always been pretty solid and has bags of potential.  I don’t think he was being given enough chances at Villareal (or Xerez now).  Maybe they’ll wize up after this.  Charlie Davies is a mixed bag for me.  He’s quick, obviously, as is physical, but too often he had the ball in great position and gave it up.  He’s still young (23) and can still improve (which I would love to see), but he left me frustrated at times.  But when he wasn’t losing the ball he was looking vicious.  His one, two with Donovan against Brazil gave me goosebumps.  Both passes, the touch and finish were clinical.

Now, the real question is: can we build on our success at the Confederation’s Cup?

The Bad

He’s taking who out?  And putting WHO in?!

  1. I’ve given up, Bob.  I can’t figure out how you decide to make your changes.  They seem to be based off speculation and your favorites, another problem of his.  If he would rotate a little more often for lesser games we could see more of Adu, Torres & Co.  If it weren’t for injuries we wouldn’t have seen Demerit, Altidore or Spector.  The substitutions against Brazil were probably his most bizarre.  Kljestan for Feilhaber, because Benny had been an asset up to that point, looked good on the ball and was going forward.  Sacha himself hadn’t really looked up to the task in the tournament that far.  Then Bornstein was brought in for Altidore (who did look frustrated on the field) to defend our (recent) draw.  After Fabiano’s second goal (which was soon before Bornstein was brought in) Bradley had to move for someone else who would push forward with Kljestan.  And then there was Conor Casey.  I’m not sure what he did to impress Bob Bradley for playing time, but he leaves boatloads to be deisred.  He can’t seem to hold the ball, pass the ball, or even get a touch on the ball.  The Casey for Clark change needed to happen much sooner if we were to search for an equalizer.  I think it’s a telling sign that some of the better players of the tournament for us (eg Spector, Demerit..) were ones that were brought in as replacements.
Despite a two goal lead at half time, the United States succumbed to the Brazilian pressure.

Despite a two goal lead at half time, the United States succumbed to the Brazilian pressure.

The Ugly

  1. Conor Casey – failed to impose himself at any time during his tournament.  I would say he’s just a body on the field, but he’s hardly that.
  2. Ricardo Clark – his horrible tackle on Gattuso, bent us over for the Italians (despite us taking the lead soon after his dismissal).  His contribution on and off the ball wasn’t what it should have been, considering he is keeping Feilhaber out of the starting 11.
  3. Sacha Kljestan – Not a horrible turnout from Sacha, but he still has a lot of room for improvement.  He’s got to pull his game together if he wants more chances on the International stage.

Let’s be clear.  Bob Bradley did got us to the final.  Regardless of his suspect substitutions or his favorites, we thrashed Eqypt, ousted Spain, and took Brazil to the wire.  It almost feels wrong that so many people are calling for his head, but I’d like to quell that notion now.  We still need a new coach.  Bob Bradley has a great knowledge of the game, yes, but the way in which he imposes that seems to fall short of where we need to be as an International team.  Maybe the Brazilian group game was our wake up call.  Maybe Bradley did a number on the team in the dressing room to bring us to where he did.  I’ll give him more time at the helm, because what he did do was remarkable.  I’m just afraid his little slips will cost us in the long run.  Keep Bob.  But keep Jurgen in the background.

In short, we have so much to take from South Africa.  We came, competed and crashed out, but that’s not to say the world absolutely saw what we did.  We humbled Spain. I’ve even heard murmurs of a few American’s on the radars of English club teams.  All speculation, but it would be a shame if our players were still overlooked after turning in a performance like that.

– Caleb Sonneland