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)

Surprise Package?

As the knockout stages get under way, let’s examine who some of the most influential and surprising players of the tournament have been in South Africa.

5. Robert Vittek – The 28 year old Slovakian striker made a name for himself with two goals in the 3-2 victory over defending

Vittek nets his first for Slovakia against Italy.

champion Italy on Thursday.  Vittek and the Slovaks caught the Italian defense sleeping several times in their match yesterday, and were able to capitalize on three of those chances.  Turns out, that was enough.  The spritely hitman who plies his trade at…uh…Ankaragücü (Turkish side) seemingly ran for the entire 92 minutes he was on the pitch.  He is tied for top scorer in South Africa alongside big names like Gonzalo Higuain and David Villa.  Despite the fact that Vittek, along with the entire Slovakian side, have impressed so far in South Africa, they face an undefeated Dutch side in the knockout rounds.  But if history has told us anything, the Dutch will choke against some opponent, and the Slovak’s will be wondering: why not us?

4. Michael Bradley – For the coach’s son, South Africa has been his playground.  The calm and collected center midfielder is only 22 years old, but to the passing onlooker could be confused for a player 8 years older.  Bradley has turned in key performances in every game the Yanks have played in the World Cup, regardless of who his midfield partner is.  He scored the equalizer in one of the games of the tournament against Slovakia, and has been a rock in stopping attacks and a spark plug in starting them.  Without him, the United States would be standing on sea legs in the ocean that is South Africa.  The Borussia Mochengladbach lynchpin could have put himself in the shop window for bigger European clubs this summer, and with his displays against talented opposition, there’s no reason he shouldn’t get a look.

3.  Alexis Sanchez – Quick and dynamic, Sanchez has played a hand in most every attacking move for the Chilean side, who

He'll be listening to offers after South Africa.

have been impressive going forward the in all their matches.  The winger/striker plays for a very respectable Udinese side in Serie A.  Interestingly, the young gun has no goals this tournament, but has still been a key player for his South American side’s progression into the knockout stages.  They now face a Brazilian side coming off of a disappointing draw against Portugal and may be prime for some surprise attacking football…something that the Chileans almost guarantee.  Chile were unlucky to be reduced to 10 men against Spain.  It would have been a very different game if they were at full strength, as Sanchez & Co were running at the Spanish backline with speed and technically aplomb.

2. Mesut Ozil – Controversial pick here, because Ozil of Werder Bremen was known as a great player before his time in South Africa.  However, many did not give him the credit they are giving him now after his performances in group play.  In Germany’s first game against Australia, the 21 year old checked in with two assists, not to mention countless passes over and through the Australian back line.  Ozil has single handedly ensured that the presence of Michael Ballack has not been missed.  Ozil’s creativity has been the high point of Germany’s World Cup campaign and he capped off group play with a stunning strike against Ghana. He is just about as young as anybody at the tournament, but is playing at a level that the highest performers are on.  Looking for a bet?  Put it on Ozil moving to a bigger name European club for big bucks.

Honda will grow to be one of the hottest talents in world football.

1. Keisuke Honda – CSKA Moscow’s paying £6 millon for Honda now looks like a steal, as the Japanese wizard has lit up Group E.  He opened his first ever World Cup with the winning goal over Cameroon, and has continued to work his magic on the back lines in South Africa, most recently against Denmark as first he smashed a freekick into Thomas Sorenson’s net from 30 yards out but, towards the end of the game, he gave a craftily turned inside the box, and, rather than being selfish, played the ball across to substitute Shinji Okazaki for a goal.  He has been a revelation for the Japanese, and will be their biggest asset going into their clash with Paraguay, which is entirely winnable.  The manager’s claim that they could make their way into the quarterfinals.  With Keisuke Honda’s help, it’s a real possibility.

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.


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.

Desperation Defending for Group F

Group F –



New Zealand


Group F should be quite different from groups like A, D & G.  Where those groups are going to be focused on “Who is going to win the most matches?”, Group F will be hanging on, “Who will concede the most goals?”.  With Italy’s stifling defensive play and a lackluster group of attacking options, this Group F could really be one to skip over.  It has a great chance at coming down to goal differential.

Slovakia –

The Slovakians are a dark horse to make some commotion in Group F.  That is to say, Italy might not pose as big a threat as in

Hamsik goes head to head with Gattuso here in Serie A and will do so again in Group F.

years past, Paraguay’s best striker (Yes, over Santa Cruz) Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head at a night club in Mexico, and New Zealand is just happy to be here.  Slovakia will depend on their crafty young playmaker Marek Hamsik of Napoli to pull the strings and create some forward moves.  Should they snatch the lead, expect them to sit tight and soak up pressure through Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel.  However, Slovakia does have some attacking menace in their wing play of Vladimir Weiss (son of the manager) and Mirolsav Stoch.  Weiss is quick as can be and will be anxious to take on defenders, especially the aging ones of Italy.  He also forces tons of corners which will be a great area for the Slovaks to score in.  They’ve got a real chance of going through.

New Zealand –

The Kiwis are just happy to be in South Africa.  It’s a wonder that they are one of the squads competing when teams like Ireland, Russia and the Czech Republic have to sit at home and watch them enjoy the World Cup (however badly they get beat up on).  The last time New Zealand was at a World Cup, they scored only two goals and lost all three of their matches.  They’ll be hoping to one-up themselves from that previous showing, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to generate much going forward or stymying any attacks.  Their most potent threat going forward (Shane Smeltz) has never played out of Oceania and one of their only players that has played abroad, Simon Elliott, is now 35.  Their qualification campaign was a breeze, and they glided into the finals as a team in the C pot, which is a little flattering.  Unless they can pull together some impressive attacking displays and some watertight defensive ones, don’t expect the Kiwis to put numbers up on the board.  It will be interesting, though, to see how tender Italians handle the big, physical skull-bashing play of the Slovaks and the New Zealanders.

Paraguay –

The opening match of the group between La Albirroja and the Italians could well decide the winner of the group.  Paraguay are no mugs and will need to be taken seriously by the defending champions as Roque Santa Cruz, Christian Riveros and Nelson Valdez could be able to attack the back lines in Group F.  Their big concern should be their own back line.  Despite the fact that two are playing in England with Wigan and Sunderland and one is playing with Boca Juniors, a lot of pressing questions are yet to be asked, especially considering that 5/7 of them are over 30.  Another great attacking threat will be Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo.  The towering striker could be key in rough matches like Slovakia, and could cause problems for the characteristically delicate Italians.

Italy –

Italy are and always will be a team that threatens for the later stages, if not for the trophy every time they enter a tournament.

De Rossi will be hoping lightening doesn't strike twice as he is sent off here in a 2006 Group E match against the USA.

Their illustrious history of amazing players continues today as they put on the field some of the greatest players of their generation in Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and several others.  The average age of the squad is 28, which, all things considered, is the perfect age.  Even the average age of their starting XI is a shade under 30…perfect.  However, if you delve into the details, you will find that their starters are very much on opposite sides of the spectrum.  Only one or two players actually rest at a “prime” age of about 26 – 29.  Daniele De Rossi, one of the most brilliant box-to-box midfielders today, and Alberto Gilardino are the only two that fall into that age range.  Cannavaro is 36, Pirlo 31, Camoronesi 33, Di Natale 32.  That is not to say the young guns cannot carry them through, as they have some very talented young players, but Marcello Lippi has raised some eyebrows with some of the exclusions from his provisional squad.  Giuseppe Rossi, the exciting midfielder from Villareal, and Davide Santon, an up and coming defender, were both shown the door before the squad travelled to South Africa.  Surprising, but the Italians should cope.  Should they top their group, they will face the runner up from Group E, which could be Cameroon or Demmark barring some upset and the Dutch finish second.

Prediction –

1.  Italy

2. Slovakia

3. Paraguay

4. New Zealand