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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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Round 2 – Germany v. Spain Preview

A late addition to Football Station, I know, but today is a vital match up between familiar foes who have met on the international stage before in Euro 2008.  In that instance, Fernando Torres scored the only goal of the game as the Iberian squad marched to victory over the Germans.

David Villa has carried the goal count almost entirely (Iniesta has one!).

This time, it’s different.  Much different.  Germany are steamrolling teams and looking like an downright powerhouse going into this tie, and despite the fact that Spain has one of the most talented rosters in the world, they haven’t hit top gear in South Africa just yet.  After losing to Switzerland, the Spanish have won every game, but they have yet to play a team such as Germany, and their shortcomings could become evident while playing such a team.

Do the Germans have any flaws?  You bet.  They aren’t as deep a squad as they would like, luckily for the Germans, it doesn’t look like they need one.  However, with Thomas Mueller suspended from the freak “handball” call in their game against Argentina, the youngster will have to sit this one out.  Piotr Trochowski the 26 year old Hamburg man, takes his spot and will be looking to take the Spanish apart with his skillful dribbling.

The Spanish don’t exactly have many flaws.  If the form of Fernando Torres was present in one of their full backs, then there might be a real problem.  Maybe that’s why he isn’t starting.  But the nice thing for the Spanish is that you can afford to have a

Mesut Ozil has been key for the Germans in South Africa.

forward not on top form.  That said, Spain’s biggest problem, historically, is their inability to finish teams off.  This could be entirely possible if Torres doesn’t hit top gear.  Villa has been carrying the goal load almost single handedly in South Africa and could really use some help from his striking compatriot.  Germany play rough and tough defense, something Torres will be familiar from being a Liverpool player.  Will it pay dividends?  Eh, we’ll see.

The Spanish have a loaded midfield full of talent, pinpoint passing and plenty of guile.  Well isn’t that convenient…because so do the Germans.  Germany have Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Ozil and Podolski.  Spain have Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets.  It’s close but the edge may go to Spain.  Spain are vulnerable to the counter attack, though, as their striking department contain the most pace on the pitch.  Xabi Alonso isn’t known for pace, nor is Busquets.  Puyol can be vulnerable to a pacy player and Capdevila (probably the weakest link for the Spaniards, which is saying a lot) has been exposed in the past as well.

Germany’s biggest fear should be extra time.  Should they have to draw from the bench late on in the game, the Spanish can take it.  Also, the Germans haven’t had to really chase a game this World Cup, and when they did, they lost to Serbia.  If the Spaniards score first, that could be curtains as well.

Prediction

If the match doesn’t go to extra time…

Germany 2 – 1  Spain

If it does…

Could go anywhere…but we fancy Spain.



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)



Uruguay vs. South Korea Preview

Not the most dazzling first round matchup, but it should definitely be a tight one.  Uruguay possesses talent up and down the pitch, and Korea is no slouch either.  Both teams have been fairly surprising thus far in the tournament and progressed from tough groups into this stage of the tournament.  Now that all the group matches are over, we can catch our breath, step back and look at our knockout round match ups.

Uruguay – Finishing top of a tough Group A, Uruguay are two time World Cup champions…too bad those titles came in 1930

Dug up this beauty. Intimidating? You bet.

(the first ever World Cup) and 1950.  Not to mention, Uruguay hasn’t won a first round knockout game since 1970.  Statistics and history aside, this South American team looks like a real threat to the South Koreans, especially in their front line of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.

Uruguay runs a tight ship in the back and hasn’t conceded a single goal in their first three matches of the tournament.  Anchored by Martín Cáceres of Juventus and Diego Lugano of Fenerbahçe, the back four is a tough nut to crack.  Moving up the field 21 year old Nicolás Lodeiro plays with a lot of flair and could be key to unlocking the South Korean rear guard.

The front line doesn’t need much said about it, other than they are not to be taken lightly.  Diego Forlan is one of Europle’s hottest striking talents, and since his renowned flop spell at Manchester United, has become a revelation at Atletico Madrid.  Luis Suarez’s goal record for Ajax speaks for itself, but it IS the Eredivisie.  Interestingly, all of Uruguay’s goals have come since Edinson Cavani was inserted into the lineup as a third striker alongside Luis Suarez for the second match against South Africa.

South Korea – The Tigers finished runners up in Group B under free scoring Argentina, who are looking more and more like serious contenders.  That said, Korea has more than enough talent to cause problems for the South American’s defense, stingy as

Chung-Yong Lee will keep the South Americans busy tomorrow.

it is.  The Koreans rally behind their talisman Ji-Sung Park of Manchester United and Chung-Yong Lee of Bolton.  Both are technically adept and, in truth, quicker than most of the Uruguayan team and Chung-Yong Lee in particular will have a chance to run at fullback Martin Caceres all game…the matchup of the tie.

South Korean football history doesn’t track back very far, and the apex of their success came in 2002 when they hosted the tournament and crashed into the Semifinals after ousting Italy in the first round and Spain in the Quarters. They would love to emulate that sort of form here in South Africa, but they’ll be hard pressed to do so.  The good news? They don’t face nearly as tough of a route.  You could get a lot worse than Uruguay and then possibly the winner of USA/Ghana.

South Korea will have to try and snap out of its curse against South American sides at the World Cup. The Tigers have lost three matches and drawn one. That drought continued with a 4-1 loss in group play to Argentina, which defeated Uruguay twice in South American qualifying.

Uruguay is 4-0-1 all-time against South Korea, winning 1-0 in the 1990 World Cup on Daniel Fonseca’s goal in the 90th minute that put La Celeste into the round of 16.



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.



Spain Chokes…again

Before the tournament started, Spain were tipped by many to make a massive impact, even take home the Cup.  But their perennial underachievers tag keeps several pundits in check, as they consistently find a way to make themselves lose.  With no Fernando Torres in the starting lineup, David Villa started on his own up top for La Furia Roja.

After a fairly drab first half (now a standard at this World Cup), the second half was promising much of the same.  However, a chaotic goal from Switzerland in the form of Gelson Fernandes was squeezed past the Spanish backline.  After being pinned back in their half for the entirety of the second half, the rare break forward and goal was particularly surprising for anybody watching the game.

Goal scorer Gelson Fernandes battles Sergio Ramos in Durban

In response, Vicente Del Bosque brought in Fernando Torres and Jesus Navas to try and pry apart the Swiss.  The change nearly paid immediate dividends as Torres was played in twice by Villa in what is looking reminiscent of their once potent partnership, but the former scuffed his first shot and forced a corner with his second.  With the ensuing corner, Xabi Alonso absolutely thrashed his shot into the crossbar to see it bounce out.  Jesus Navas also managed an effort that made Diego Benaglio get down for the save.

Eren Derdiyok nearly made it two for the Swiss as he danced around Pique and then Puyol to hit the post.  Had that gone in, Spain would have emulated their underachieving ways from times past.

Spain attacked with 9 men and the Swiss defended with 10 while looking dangerous on the counter attack all match.  With time winding down, Spain repeatedly beat on the door and won several corners…but to no avail.

The Swiss pulled off the upset of the tournament as they beat Spain 1-0 and that has officially concluded the first round of games.  Here’s a fun fact – this is the lowest scoring World Cup ever after 16 games. A moot issue.  Now the tournament has started.

Spain didn’t play terribly, Switzerland just defended like crazy and countered well.  One may argue La Furia Roja could have used Fabregas to give a different edge to the Spanish side.

Diego. He's got your number.

Man of the Match – Diego Benaglio – The Swiss keeper was on top form all match and kept the Spaniards at bay.

Analysis – Spain should still make it out of the group alive, but it throws a huge spin on Group H…especially when Chile plays Switzerland.  Spain need to shrug this off in order to advance, though.



Battle for Second Spot – Group H
Group H –

Spain
Switzerland
Honduras
Chile

The top dog here looks assuredly like Spain.  La Furia Roja are one of the most complete sides in the world, and they, along with the entire nation, would be disappointed with anything less that 9 points from 3 matches.  So with Spain looking the dominant force in Group H, an intriguing battle arises for the runner-up spot.  Honduras are no slouches by any means, this isn’t the Swiss’s first rodeo, not to mention they have a superb coach, and Chile’s attacking mentality is sure to disrupt some of the backlines in the group.
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Chile –
The Chileans look to be one of the early favorites to head into the next round.  With their attacking play and free form

Humberto Suazo (left) and Mark Gonalez look to celebrate in Group H.

forward movements, they will surely wreak havoc on more than one team.  In Humberto Suazo, they have South America’s leading scorer in qualifying with 10 goals, and playing off him is Alexis Sanchez, who has been dubbed “The Wonder Boy” for his technical ability.  On the other side, there’s Mark Gonzalez aka “Speedy Gonzalez”, and make no mistake, his pace will undoubtedly cause some problems for slower outside backs, particularly Switzerland, Chile’s main rival for second spot.  Behind these three lies Mathias Fernandez, the 2006 South American Player of the Year, who not only takes on defenders with aplomb, but is known for his creative play and no look passes.  Chile has top notch manager in Marcelo Bielsa, nicknamed “El Loco”.  However, there’s nothing crazy his results.  He experiments…a lot.  He plays a 3-3-1-3 some days, a 3-4-3 the next or a 4-1-2-1-2 when he’s feeling lucky.  His experimentation and attack-minded play have been a revelation for Chile and they will look to bring that same style of play to South Africa.

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Honduras –
The technically gifted South Americans will be nothing to take lightly.  They have talented players in just about every area across the pitch and though they might be favorites to bottom the group, are by no means the minnows of Group H.  Up top, there’s David Suazo of Genoa on loan from Internazionale , the Serie A Foreign Player of the Year in 2006.  Behind him is his cousin and Wigan Athletic’s Hendry Thomas and Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios.  The manager Reinaldo Rueda will likely play a 4-4-2 with Palacios and Thomas playing holding mid while Edgar Alvarez and captain Amado Guevara feed the ball up top. Their trickery will be interesting to see when paired with that of Chile’s own ability and then Switzerland’s defensive approach to the game.  Los Catrachos’ biggest flaw lies between the goalposts.  Noel Valladares guards the goalmouth for Honduran professional team Olimpia, but he is known for shaky displays and weak clearances.  That could cost them dearly in a group hell bent on advancing to the next round.
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Switzerland –
The Swiss have qualified for the World Cup for the second time in a row, and they are hoping to avoid their fate last time around when they narrowly missed out on the knockout stages.  Going in their favor they have Alexander Frei , their captain and leading goalscorer by twice the amount of the second highest scorer (40 goals).  Unfortunately, the second highest scorer is Hakan Yakin, the 33 year old midfielder/striker.  Yakin is past his prime and should only feature as a substitute.  The next highest scorer is Blaise Nkufo, who is 35 and has scored a lowly 7 goals.  After them, Tranquillo Barnetta has 6 goals and Philippe Senderos with 5.  Obviously, Switzerland’s biggest problem lies in front of goal.  The goal scoring tally goes: 40, 20, 7, 6, 5…etc.  That is why the Swiss rely on their defense to get them through.  They do, however, have several midfielders that are looking to be quite the players but aren’t quite at the pinnacle of their careers.  Next World Cup could be a much different story for the Swiss.
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Joan Capdevila could be the achilles heel of the Spanish side, if any.

Spain
They are technically gifted, pinpoint passers, clinical finishers and overall world class opponents.  Spain has something that not every team in South Africa has, talent AND team chemistry.  The Spanish duo of Xavi and Iniesta are very familiar with each other from playing at Barcelona together, and Fernando Torres and David Villa have partnered each other for the last few years.  Xabi Alonso sits deep and sprays long passes all over the pitch and opens up the wide lanes for play.  If you had to chose a weakness in this Spanish side it would be the left side of defense, Joan Capdevila.  Capdevila is a very capable outside back, however he is probably the least capable player at their position on the pitch, which is saying a lot at how talented this squad is.  Even if there is some shortcomings in defense, they have Iker Casillas in goal, who is a World Player of the Year for 2009 and one of the best ‘keepers on the planet.  It will take some great skill to make one’s way through the midfield, defense and goalkeeper to score, and we may only see that in the later stages
of the competition.
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Prediction
1.  Spain
2.  Chile (possibly by goal difference)
3.  Switzerland
4.  Honduras