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Fresh Meat

NETHERLANDS – SPAIN

“Fresh Meat”

Final – Preview

July 11th, 2010

There’s a first time for everything, and for Spain, it’s a World Cup Final.  For the Netherlands, it could potentially be their first ever World Cup trophy after featuring in the final in 1974 and 1978.  Those appearances coupled with their Euro 1988 win give the Dutch the historical edge, but recently, Spain is the more accomplished of the two sides after winning Euro 2008.

Neither side is a sure bet for the win, as they are both more than capable of winning the tournament.  The pitch will be packed with talent as the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt will take on the Spanish Armada consisting of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and David Villa.  Ironically, both teams have been notorious for choking in the past, yet both find themselves thrust onto literally the greatest stage in world football.

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Netherlands –

The Oranje are a well oiled machine.  Any questions that were asked of them before the tournament have promptly been answered as the Dutch are now 6/6 in South Africa.  They’re not as flashy as some of their supporters would like, but you can’t argue with the results they’re cranking out.  Beating Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay is no small order but the Oranje have done it well.

In a rich vein of form, the Inter Milan man could win the Champions League and World Cup this year.

Stengths

The Dutch have world class talent littered across the pitch.  Wesley Sneijder is almost without question, the best attacking midfielder in the world and he’s flanked by Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt – two very different players but both extremely effective in their play.  Against Uruguay, their back line looked a lot better than it did in the first half against Brazil, and all four starters should be fit and ready to go against Spain.

Weaknesses

Their defensive unit.  Van Bronckhorst, their captain is 35, Joris Mathijsen is 30 and Andre Ooijer (should he be used) is 35.  Now Van Bronckhorst showed that he still has quite a bit of power in his screamer against Uruguay, but he still can be exposed by speed and trickery.  Notably, he will face quite a bit more of that against the Spaniards, who are brimming with confidence and skill.  If David Villa has a bad game (you never know), then it could really open the match up as Netherlands will be able to fortify the back line while using van Bommel to help defense flow seamlessly into attack.  Also, the Dutch will really have to hope that Robin Van Persie finds some kind of form, because their striking department has lacked bite.

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Spain

If there’s any time to buckle, this is not it.  However, you can’t help but feel that having never been to the finals, that this might be their most likely time to do so.  With so much expectation and playing such hot-and-cold football, who really knows what Spain team will show up against the Netherlands.

Strengths

What isn’t a strength for Spain?  The boast one of the best keepers on the planet, Pique and Puyol anchor the back line, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro/Busquets make up the midfield and they have one of the most in-form strikers in the world in David Villa.  They play classy and attractive football, and should they score the first goal, the Netherlands will find it incredibly tough to bounce back.  They’re the strongest squad on paper going into the final, but, as we all know well, that doesn’t mean much.

Weaknesses

The Spanish aren’t flawless, as many would like to believe.  They have tendencies and soft spots that can be exposed if rubbed the right way.  Playing with a lone striker allows teams to crowd them out and frustrate their attack.  Netherlands isn’t known as a counter attacking team, which isn’t good news for Spain as their style is tailormade for stiffling counter attacking play.  I’ve always said that Joan Capdevila is their weakest player, and while that says a lot about their starting line up (because Capdevila is a solid player), he will be facing Arjen Robben and likely Dirk Kuyt.  As the Germans tried to exploit (albeit unsuccessfully) were the soft spots behind the holding midfielder and in front of the defense.  And with Ramos pushing so far up the pitch, Sneijder will make a killing off those pockets in which he can work with Kuyt or Robben.

Gelson Fernandes scores the winner for Switzerland against Spain in the Group opener.

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Prediction – Both teams are formidable sides, but it’s hard to look past Spain now.  Germany was probably their sternest test, and with that out of the way, they look like they could well go on to win it.

Netherlands 0 – 2  Spain

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Wing It – Netherlands v. Brazil Preview

NETHERLANDS – BRAZIL

“WING IT”

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.

NETHERLANDS – BRAZIL

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.

Prediction

Brazil 2 – 1 Netherlands (after extra time)



Italy Ousted!

The Slovakian national team sensationally beat the defending champions today 3-2 in a possibly the game of the tournament so

Robert Vittek celebrates his second goal for the Slovaks.

far.

Robert Vittek scored twice with substitute Kamil Kopunek netting with his first touch of the ball, and that saw the Italians bottom of their group with two late goals from Antonio Di Natale (81′) and Fabio Quagriarella (92′).

Italy finish with only 2 points and will pack their bags to head home.

It was simply too much to ask of the Azzurri as a draw with the Slovaks would have seen them through.  It wasn’t without controversy, however, as English Premier League referee Howard Webb disallowed a late Italian equalizer for offsides that, in truth, was a very very close call.

The Italian defense looked asleep at times, which the Slovakians capitalized on very well.  There are questions of whether Marcello Lippi chose his most effective squad.  After relying heavily on his boys from 2006, Lippi has several of his stars over 30.  That list includes Andrea Pirlo, Fabio Cannavaro, Antonio Di Natale, Gennaro Gattuso and more.  It is understandable to stick to your guns from a championship side…but that was 4 years ago.  4 years ago, many of the Italian national team were in their prime.  But 4 years is quite a while in footballing terms, and many of them are aging stars.

Regardless, the result stands and Lippi may very well be out of a job.   The Slovakians move on in the runner up spot and will likely play the Netherlands while Paraguay head the group, but both teams will find out who they play for sure in a few hours time when Group E finishes play.



Tim Howard’s South Africa Diary

Courtesy of FoxSoccer…

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Tim Howard’s South Africa Diary

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The World Cup has been everything I expected, and more.

I’ve been so incredibly impressed with the way South Africa has rallied together. When I’ve come here the past couple of years I’ve done the things you come here to do. I’ve done the safaris, I went to Soweto, and I‘ve done all the sightseeing things, but to really see all the African people embrace the World Cup, it’s been a really cool experience. To see what this means to them is something else. It’s corporate in a lot of ways, but it’s also about the heart of the people and their passion for soccer.

Tim Howard reflects on his time in South Africa.

From an off-the-field standpoint, the place where we’re staying, the morale, the guys, the group, it has been one hundred percent perfect. We’re enjoying ourselves. It’s been a long time being away, but with all the games on, and all of us huddled around the TV watching all the games, we’ve had a chance to really bond.

It’s different from (the 2006 World Cup at) Germany in the sense that, logistically speaking, the hotels and the families and where they’re all staying is different, and we’re on our own. It’s not like staying in the downtown city center (in Hamburg), where you can just put your sunglasses on, walk out and go shopping. It’s more of a training camp mentality. We’re here, bunkered in, we enjoy our meals and enjoy our training, and to a certain extent, for better of worse, we’re a lot more focused. There’s not a lot of external things going on. There’s a lot fewer distractions. The guys are playing FIFA, a few of the boys are out and fishing in the lake, there are poker games, we’re watching a lot of the games. Our schedule is pretty straightforward. It’s broken up pretty well because we’ve got a workout session in the morning, then lunch, then we rest. After that we’ve got training in the afternoon. There’s downtime, but there’s enough to keep us active.

This team, with the additions that were made just prior to the World Cup, is probably one of the better teams I’ve been on in terms of no egos, really good guys, guys who are eager and hungry and ready to work. All the really good things you can say about guys on the team has been that way.

It’s a very young group, but sometimes with that it can go either way. They see it as their chance to shine, they internalize it, they get greedy and start acting a certain way and take it as a negative thing. We haven’t had that with this group. The younger guys who have come into this group have been gung ho for this team and do anything they can. Not just on the field, but off the field, and it’s been awesome.

I’ve watched quite a few World Cup games, just like everybody else. I’ve been pulling particularly for the Everton guys in the group. Holland, Nigeria, South Africa and Australia are really the ones I’ve been focused on, but I’ve watched every game and it’s been a pretty incredible World Cup because you just don’t know who’s going to win each game.

One of the toughest moments was seeing Tim Cahill get a red card. I was devastated for him. I spoke to him afterward. He was

Cahill sees red in the Socceroos' opener with Germany.

beside himself, couldn’t figure out why or how he got the red. He’s someone I’ve grown close with and we’ve talked about this for years, and throughout the build-up, so I know what it meant to him so it was tough.

Looking back at the England game, we really felt good about what we could accomplish in that game. Beforehand, guys weren’t scared. Guys weren’t nervous, they were ready for it. We fought back from a goal down and played a good game against a very good team in a game I know people had been waiting months to see.

What a lot of people remember about that game is my injury. I didn’t know what the next day would bring, but I was going to give myself every shot to play against Slovenia. When I spoke to the trainers, they told me when it’s a rib injury it’s something you’re going to feel for a few weeks, so once I knew that it was about figuring out how to manage it.

The next morning was crazy. I kept trying to roll over in the middle of the night and it was nearly impossible. I had to stay on my left side. It wasn’t a surprise. I knew it was going to be bad but you deal with it. I was definitely in pain, but I just tried to take as many pain meds as I could to deal with it. It wasn’t the first time this season where I had to deal with something like that. With Everton late in the year, I had a back injury late in the year that had me thinking for the first time in a long time that I might have to come out of the game. It rocked me so bad that I was literally laid flat on my back in bed the next morning and I called from my phone on the night stand and told the team I couldn’t physically make it to practice. Walking down the stairs, walking to the stairs – it was a joke. I was dragging my feet. It was terrible. I couldn’t stand up straight. I was struggling. But I still played the next game because I don’t like missing games.

It was a special game, and for me, it was my first World Cup game. I try not to let my mind wander in those moments, like during the national anthem, but it’s hard not to when you’re playing in your first World Cup and the anthem comes on. I just tried not getting caught up in it, but there were a few moments like that.

We went into the Slovenia game with a lot of confidence, but to go down early the way we did was tough. In the second half, instinct took over. Our backs were literally against the wall. We were 45 minutes from our World Cup basically being over. The way we responded was great, and it gives us a lot of confidence going into the Algeria match.

The muggings at Ellis Park Stadium.

At this level, when you go down in any game 2-0, and you get back to level, you have to feel fortunate. We would love to win, and we would have loved for that (third) goal to stand in order to assure ourselves of a spot in the second round. The other side of that is that we were down two goals and we came back, we‘re still fighting and we still have a chance, so we have to keep it in perspective.

As far as the call on Maurice Edu’s goal, initially we were upset by it because it’s natural to be emotional after the game, but very quickly we re-focused on and had to put it behind us. I certainly understand it from a fans perspective that it’s not something you’re going to forget easily. We realize that we still have it all to play for, and if we win on Wednesday, we’ll qualify.

The crowd was great for the Slovenia match. I’ve played 50-something times for the (United States) and not once do I remember a whole, entire national anthem sung by the whole crowd. When they played the anthem and we were singing, it was being sung back at us, and it was a pretty incredible moment.

We’ve been in games where we’ve needed to win the game and it’s been a big game and big occasion. All we need is that win, just like last year (against Egypt in the Confederations Cup). The Egypt game is in recent memory, but you can go back to the Gold Cup final in 2007, that was a must-win, and the Confederations Cup semifinal was also a must-win. We’ve got that experience and it can only help us.

The experience at this World Cup has been even more special because my parents and brother have been here to enjoy it and experience it with me. When it comes to youth soccer in America, families have to give up a lot. Most other siblings have to sacrifice because you’re driving around to tournaments all over the country. Moms and dads have to sacrifice and drop everything they’re doing on the weekends. That’s how you spend most of your weekends for a good part of your youth. On the road, in hotels, playing in youth soccer tournaments, so it’s really special to have them all come and enjoy this experience and kind of be in the ultimate and the pinnacle of the sport. From all those days traveling around New Jersey, and up and down the East Coast, to youth soccer tournaments. It almost feels like it all paid off.

– Tim Howard



A Clockwork Oranje

The Netherlands qualified for the knockout stages today with a 1-0 victory over a resilient Japanese side that were not without their own threats going forward.  Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder was the main man for the Dutch as he blasted a shot into the hands of keeper Eiji Kawashima who could only deflect it into his own net in the 53rd minute.

Sneijder nets his eventual winner from outside the area.

The Oranje weren’t as silky going forward as many people thought they would be.  Their 2-0 win over Denmark didn’t properly reflect the play on the pitch, and their win over Japan was hard fought and the Dutch showed signs of weakness.

Robin Van Persie and the front line were guilty of missing a handful of chances that could have been tucked away for a more convincing victory.  Ibrahim Afellay came on for the goal scorer in the 83rd minute and almost made his time count just a minute later in the 84th by forcing Kawashima into a fine low save and again in the 88th minute.

Shinji Okazaki fizzes a shot at Oranje keeper Martin Steklenberg.

For the Japanese Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, and Marcus Tulio Tanaka all had great chances at leveling the score.  Honda has been a spritely winger, jinxing his way past outside backs, but his delivery was lacking for some of the match.  It also doesn’t help that the Dutch had a superior height advantage, which could explain their lack of long balls and crosses.

The Netherlands also survived a late penalty scare when Yuto Nagatomo was knocked down by De Jong in the 89th minute, but the referee didn’t award a penalty and instead penalized Nagatomo for flopping.

At the end of the day, Group E still is an open book, at least the runner up spot.  Cameroon and Denmark will battle for 3 points as Japan still sits in second with three points.  Should Cameroon lose, they’ll be sent packing.



Robb-ed!
June 5, 2010, 8:32 AM
Filed under: World Cup | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Arjen Robben has become the latest casualty to injury, as he has had a hamstring injury in the Dutch’s 6-1 mauling of Hungary.

The winger could be down and out.

Coach Van Marwijk told reporters, “I would rather lose this match and have Arjen stay fit.  He felt a sharp pain.  That does not bode well.  But I do not lose hope.”

The manager ruled out calling up any standby players until Robben’s scans come back tomorrow, and then will “make a plan”  based off that.

Is this a conspiracy?  Did some country pay everybody to have their stars “injured”?  I suppose Kaká and David Villa are next then!  Here’s to what is sure to be an exciting World Cup.