The tournament co-favorites face their first major hurdle on Friday when Brazil faces the Brazil of Europe, the Netherlands, a side who’s formation has adapted from of the elements that have defined recent versions of the Selecao. But there is very little samba in either side these days, with the two teams likely to deploy at least four defensive midfielders to start their quarterfinal match-up.
For the Netherlands, this change has brought stability, moving them away from their idealistic 4-3-3 to a set-up where their tournament hopes rest on the performance of two holders. Fortunately for that Dutch, the new formation might be the perfect set-up to unseat Brazil.
Brazil, Going Forward: By now you’ve probably heard Paul Pundit talking about Brazil being a counter-attacking team. Against a Netherlands team that has a reputation for flowing forward, Total Footballing their way through a defense, you would think the Dutch susceptible to being countered upon. But none of Denmark, Japan or Slovakia have been able to catch the Netherlands off-guard, even though each team set-up to do so.
The Netherlands’ two world class defensive midfielders (Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel) are responsible for that success, and because the Dutch are able to generate enough of opportunities with their four advanced attackers, they rarely have to bring either deep-sitting player forward. Even though Brazil is more prolific on the counter-attack that the Netherlands’ previous opponents, they aren’t more likely to be able to crack de Jong and van Bommel.
To generate goals, it will be up to forwards Robinho and Luis Fabiano to win their individual match-ups against Gregory van der Weil, John Heitenga and Joris Matijsen, and while you would favor them to eventually do so, will Brazil adjust their approach and see enough of the ball to take advantage of those match-ups?
Netherlands, Going Forward: The return to health of right win Arjen Robben gives the Dutch of way of winning matches if nothing else is working for them. As exhibited early against Slovakia, sometimes you only need to kick a long ball up the pitch, to the right flank, and second later you have have a goal. With Robben matched-up against Michel Bastos, a midfielder being employed at left back, expect Bert van Marwijk to use Plan A often.
What’s Plan B? Two more of the world’s best attackers: Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie. Certainly not the best of friends, the still two pushed the Dutch through group stage as Robben recovered from his hamstring injury. Van Persie, in particular, should give Lucio and Juan problems, being fast enough to move away from them and smart enough to use his movements to create space. Sneijder will use the space, either to run or pass into.
How The Match Turns: The match’s dynamic could change drastically when lineups are selected. Dunga will be missing two or three midfielders, and if Gilberto da Silva is one selected to start, Dunga will be indicting his intention to compensate for Robben by starting another left-sided player.
Even if Dunga does so, the match could depend on which Kaká shows up. To this point, Brazil has not been hurt by the fact that Kaká has been good (not great(. If de Jong and van Bommel play well, Kaká will have to be great in order to create the chances Robinho and Fabiano need to take advantage of their marks.