Final pre-game Spain v Holland thoughts

July 11, 2010

* Sergio Ramos is really the Achilles heel of the Spanish team. If the Dutch fail to exploit the space he creates on their attack, it’s hard to see how they win.

* Puyol and Pique aren’t super quick. I’d like to see some attempts to play a through ball to Robin Van Persie or Arjen Robben.

* If you’d told me that Robin Van Persie had only one goal, I’d have assumed the Dutch didn’t make it very far. Sneijder isn’t really a finisher, despite his 5 goals this World Cup (if neither Sneijder or Villa score, the two will share top scorer honors with Uruguayan Diego Forlan and German Thomas Mueller). Van Persie has to make life difficult for Pique and Puyol. Interestingly, Van Persie and the Dutch coach had some serious feuds in the early part of this decade.

* Interesting matchup to me will be Dutch holding midfielders Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel against Xavi and Iniesta. De Jong and Van Bommel need to be careful not to pick up any yellows early that could lead to reds later. Referee Howard Webb is not a guy afraid to give marginal red cards or penalties in big games, if my memory serves.

* Spain really should try to counter the counter-attack once in awhile. One of the few great things about playing Spain is that they seem to think it is unsporting to counterattack when an opponent turns the ball over. The Dutch can bring people forward with a little more confidence than against Uruguay.

* Dirk Kuyt is the un-Dutch Dutch footballer. He’s all hustle. Yet he’s pretty vital because his work rate sets the tone. He’s a bit less valuable if the Dutch try to out ticky-tack the Spaniards.

* Do you switch Robben to matchup against Sergio Ramos? Or would matching up against Robben make Sergio Ramos more likely to stay at home and not get out of position? And while Sergio Ramos is overrated offensively, he does bring something to the table, meaning that Kuyt gets back against him better. I bet we’ll see the status quo — Kuyt on the left. I’d consider Ryan Babel, but why bother thinking about these things when van Marwijk obviously isn’t going to do it: he hasn’t put Ryan Babel on the pitch for a single minute this tournament.

* Iker Casillas has occasionally looked shaky, I’d like to see the Dutch try from distance. The Uruguay goalkeeper had had a pretty good tournament until today, hadn’t he? I wouldn’t mind seeing a Schweinsteiger-esque 45 yard strike that Casillas fails to parry and leaves it on doorstep for someone crashing for the rebound. Nope, wouldn’t mind that at all.

* There is some truth to the idea that Spain plays a more classically Dutch game than this Netherlands team does. That’d be cruel if it works for them.

It is always true that the first goal is just massively crucial. Against some opponents, the game completely changes. Not really against Spain, who play the same game up 1-0 or down 1-0.


Holland v Uruguay preview

July 6, 2010

More thoughts, in numbered form.

1. This isn’t really Uruguay on the field. It’s Uruguay minus injuries and suspensions. Suarez (he of the handball, who by the way plays in Holland for Ajax where he has scored 3 goals in every 4 games) is missing. Center defender and captain Lugano won’t be there, while the other center defender, Godin, missed the last game for injury, so you have to wonder how solid the middle of the defense will be. Defender Fucile won’t be there, nor will playmaker Lodeiro.

2. Holland is missing a van der Zwiel and De Jong. De Jong is pretty key, but de Zeeuw is a suitable replacement. I’m a bit more worried about Khalid Boulahrouz and his capacity for gaining penalties and red cards through his defending. If I recall correctly, van der Zwiel’s suspension is for the yellow he received for touching the ball when it was Kaka’s throw-in. Pretty ticky-tacky card that while I technically agree with, it is unique in this World Cup. A shame.

3. I’d expect Uruguay to come out fairly defensively, much like they did against France. Try and keep the game scoreless in the first half and hope Forlan can poach one in the second half. Suarez’s replacement Cavani isn’t a zero either, playing for Palermo in Italy.

4. Not many teams can be missing this many starters and win. Uruguay has only 3.5 million people. They also played 120 minutes in their last match. They’re a good team — if I recall correctly after their first game I said they are one of the most underrated teams at this World Cup, but I’m not going to search for the post right now — but those are alot of obstacles to overcome. Anything can happen in football, but Uruguay has alot of factors working against them.

5. Please Boulahrouz, please. Don’t do anything dumb. If you don’t, Holland cruises into the finals 3-1.


Do you believe in (Dutch) miracles?

July 2, 2010

The miracle isn’t that the Netherlands beat Brazil. Not at all, as the two nations now have the same record against each other. The miracle is that the Dutch are winning ugly. That’s never happened before in my lifetime.

So, at halftime the score was 1-0. Brazil barely had the ball in the first half, but they had all the scoring chances. In the 5th minute Dani Alves (I think) was marginally but noticably offside, though for some reason Brazil continued playing and put the ball in the net.

Robinho’s goal was the sort of goal the Dutch haven’t been giving up. Brazilian attackers just ran away from the middle of the field, all the defenders followed them, and Felipe Melo played the ball into space and Robinho slotted in home with all kinds of time. Good vision from Melo, but really that’s just a large defensive error.

My other notes at halftime were: 1) Holland hasn’t really shown up yet, 2) referee is having a great game, 3) if we’d had the same Russian ref from the Holland Portugal game 4 years ago, there would already have been 8 red cards, 4) Brazil looks strangely nervous and whiny.

Holland came out to play in the second half. I had that written down in my notebook before they scored an ugly goal, apparently written down as an own goal from Felipe Melo, although considering that the ball was headed into the net, I’d call it more of a miscommunication. A lucky goal. The Dutch second was also lucky*, as Kuyt made a near post run, skipped it on with his head, and the ball fell to Sneijder in perfect position to deflect it home.

In my opinion, the referee had a brilliant match. Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura did his best to avoid giving out cards. Truthfully, he could’ve given out a ton and been correct in doing so. The Argentine announcers thought that he should be giving out cards; I disagree. He let the players decide the game. While Felipe Melo received a red card with 20 minutes to go, it was a pretty clear red card: he tripped Robben and then purposely stepped on his leg. That’s going to get a red card like 98% of the time. I thought he also showed incredible restraint in not giving yellow cards out to Brazil for dissent in the first half. He would have been correct, but it’s better that the players can decide the outcome of the match without referee interference.

Holland will have to play its semifinals without Van Bommel and without Van der Wiel. That’s tough. And I can’t understand how Holland failed to score a 3rd goal.

Good riddance to Dunga. With the game tied, Brazil didn’t create much. Down a goal, Brazil didn’t create much. That’s the danger to playing like you did. That’s the danger of bringing Brazil’s B team.

Highlight video:

* Though also probably planned and well-executed.


Brazil v Netherlands: the 10th meeting

July 1, 2010

Tomorrow’s matchup between Brazil and the Netherlands is a strange matchup: the un-Brazil vs the un-Holland. With all due respect to Argentina, these are the two nations with the strongest commitment to playing attractive, stylish football.

It’s been a common refrain on this blog: under Dunga, Brazil plays a boring, joyless football. Despite having one of the most talented player pools in the world, Dunga chose a boring defensive-oriented team. He doesn’t seem terribly interested in who is in form, which explains how two players maintain their starting positions for la Selecao despite the fact that they couldn’t crack the starting lineup for 5th place Manchester City (Robinho, Elano). He chose Maicon over Dani Alves, only to replace an injured Elano with Dani Alves at right mid/wing, a position at which Alves looked a little lost for Barcelona the few times he played there.

Holland, likewise, is doing something they’ve never done before: win ugly. While they’re getting criticized back home, instead of attacking and leaving defending to chance, they actually defend. They don’t take silly chances. They still try to possess the ball with flowing football, but without overdoing it. Can you tell I’m a fan? Eljero Elia was right: the best from the Dutch is still to come. They haven’t even come close to their capacity.

Brazil is 3-2-4 through the first 9 meetings of these two teams. I think Holland is going to even the score tomorrow. Of course, I would say that since I have a Dutch last name…and because I’m really not a fan of Dunga. Like I indicated in my writeup of Holland, there’s a happy middle ground. If you’re up 1-0 with 2 minutes left in the game and the other team is collapsing into their end: you don’t have to attack.

I think this could be another Brazil v Holland World Cup classic. I hope the Dutch get a little luck — unusual for a World Cup — score first and come away with the win.


Argentina advances! A fun day of games

June 18, 2010

Argentina advances. Dale! Well, actually, I thought Argentina advanced, but my father-in-law informed me at dinner that technically it is possible for Argentina to not advance. Even so, it’s gotta be like 99%.

1. I am less sanguine about Argentina than most. South Korea really should have scored when the game was 2-1. If they do, this is not a 4-1 game. Argentina beat Nigeria by 1 goal and South Korea by 3, where 2 goals were scored relatively late. Perhaps it is my experience rooting for Holland, but

2. Nigeria. Sigh. I was impressed by Nigeria in the 94 World Cup and have had a soft spot in my heart for them in World Cups since. I have few doubts that they are the second best team in this group. And even though they have 0 points, they still have a chance to advance if they can get it together and beat South Korea. They play well, but a stupid red card put a massive dent in the hopes of advancing for the 8th most populous nation in the world. Still, Argentina should beat Greece, so if Nigeria beats Korea, then Nigeria would advance. All is not lost, but they need to get it together.

3. Have I mentioned I don’t like Angel Di Maria? Of course I have, many times! He’s so overrated. After today, I don’t even think it’s opinion that he is having a terrible disaster of a World Cup (Maradona left Jesus Datolo and Ezequiel Lavezzi off the roster, dumb dumb dumb). My father in law agreed with me at dinner tonight, and liked my off the cuff suggestion to move Tevez into Di Maria’s slot. Aguero or Milito can play forward.

That’s the sick part of being Maradona. He just has so much talent available.

4. Have I mentioned I don’t like Jonas Gutierrez? Indeed I have. That yellow card was just stupid, an unforced error. Still, there is some reason for Gutierrez when Juan Sebastian Veron is playing, to cover Veron’s lack of mobility. However, he was out hurt today, and Maxi Rodriguez (who I would start in many tactical situations) was in his place, so there’s no conceivable excuse for having Gutierrez in the game.

5. Gonzalo Higuain scored 3 right-place, right-time goals. Hey, I’m a Higuain fan even if I don’t like River or Real Madrid: I criticized Maradona for months for keeping him out. Some people have the gift of being in the right spot: Martin Palermo generally does, Higuain does.

6. Maradona introduced Kun Aguero into the game at the perfect moment. My father in law mentioned this tonight. I hadn’t thought of it, but he is right.

7. Messi took for himself a deeper-lying playmaking role. To be honest, I didn’t have a problem with it. In the interview I saw with Messi, he made it sound like it was how he felt like playing at the moment. If it was Maradona’s idea, I give the Diego credit. I don’t really know that it was, but it softened the blow of Riquelme’s absence.

8. Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (not gonna look it up now) had a little bit of a Robert Green moment. A shame for him, as he had perhaps been the best player of the World Cup until then.

9. Mexico! Raymond Domenech seems to be a worse manager than Diego Maradona, but vamos Mexico! France had the ball more often, but not by a lot, and never in very compromising positions. Mexico created the chances and today was absolutely the better side. I would like to point out that I yelled for Javier Hernandez to be introduced until he finally was…and quickly scored the first goal of the game. Amazing timing on his run to beat the offsides trap.

10. More importantly, Mexico looked to be a team focused on winning. As the Argentine announcers said after the game, they played directly. This has frequently been Mexico’s problem, but today it wasn’t, and beating France by 2 goals is a huge victory for Mexico and even for CONCACAF.

11. Mexico’s second goal was a penalty. The Argentine announcers (generally quality commentators) both repeated ad nauseum that it shouldn’t have been a PK, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I do not understand how any sensible person could possibly consider this. Que estupidez total!

12. No Henry, Raymond Domenech? Yet lots of Govou? I do not like. No me gusta para nada.

13. It is close to certain that Uruguay and Mexico advance. That means Uruguay v Mexico will determine who is able to avoid playing Argentina. Interestingly, Argentina beat Uruguay to force Uruguay into playing Costa Rica for the final World Cup spot, and Argentina beat Mexico in the round of 16 in the last World Cup.

14. The US needs a win against Slovenia tomorrow. I’m surprisingly nervous. All the games tomorrow (Germany v Serbia, US v Slovenia, England v Algeria) are quite interesting from my perspective, but probably because I’m an American.


Holland v Denmark

June 14, 2010

2-0 win for Holland.  It’s a result, it gets the job done, makes them likely to move on, yadda yadda yadda.

Holland was/is my pick to win the World Cup.  My method was basically: start with the favorites and eliminate them if I didn’t feel they could win.  Somehow I ended up with the Netherlands, and a strange feeling that they could win and that Robin Van Persie could be the leading goalscorer of the tourney.

The Dutch looked rather listless to me?  Their energy at winning 50/50 balls wasn’t great, nor was their movement off the ball.  Total Football it was not, and I didn’t see alot of overlapping runs, or really any good linkup play.  Offensively, it seemed like people stayed in their assigned positions on the field and waited for the ball to come into their area.

*  The yellow cards to De Jong and Van Persie worry me a bit.  Van Persie, De Jong, and Van Bommel are all the types who could accumulate yellow cards and miss matches.   Decent games from the latter two, as well as Wesley Sneijder, whose touch set up the second goal.

* Kinda a typical Kuyt goal: all hustle.

* Stéphane Lannoy had an excellent game in the center.  Kudos to the Frenchman for a solid game as the referee.  Sure, a few mistakes here and there, but he called fouls when necessary, avoided giving out needless cards, and didn’t make himself the star of the game.

*  Still picking the Dutch to win.  This ain’t Euro ’08, where the Dutch came out firing on all cylinders.  Even so, for a Dutch team they seem relatively united.  They have the quality of players, they have the kind of group that essentially assures them of advancing, and aside from Bendtner getting free for an unmarked header, their defense was well organized.


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