A shock victory from the Netherlands knocks the in-tournament favourites Brazil out of the World Cup in rather freakish circumstances. After Brazil cruised through the first half clearly the better team, Holland struck back out of nowhere, helped by some poor goalkeeping from Julio Cesar. From there, Dunga’s men lost any structure and discipline. A change in a vital position, a red card for Felipe Melo, and suddenly Holland are winning 2-1 and on their way to the semi-final.
The teams were as expected. Felipe Melo replaced Ramires in the Brazilian midfield (although Dunga may regret that change), and Andre Ooijer came in for the injured Joris Mathisen in the heart of the Dutch defence.
Both sides lined-up similarly to that of their quarter-final victories. The Dutch deployed Arjen Robben on the right hand side as an inverted winger, with Dirk Kuyt playing in from the left. Wesley Sneijder was hugely influential in the win – playing in the attacking midfield role, where he roamed regularly to the right. For Brazil, Dunga played his familiar system with unconventional wide men Dani Alves and Robinho, and Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo in the centre midfield roles . Both sides found it difficult to deal with the opposition’s wide players throughout the game, as Robinho proved early on.
Brazil dominated the first half
Brazil were by far the happier team at half time, with a 1-0 cushion thanks to a goal from Robinho after ten minutes. Felipe Melo played one of the passes of the tournament, splitting the Dutch defence in half, and Robinho ran in from the left to finish nicely. The Dutch defence – particularly Gregory van der Wiel – found it difficult to handle Robinho. His unusual style from the left meant he played high up the field and came centrally very often, forcing van der Wiel to make the decision to either follow him or stay in position on his own, without the threat from any left backs.
John Heitinga and Andre Ooijer had their hands full with Luis Fabiano and Kaka, but neither threatened throughout the game. An ususual sight was Gio van Bronckhorst, who dealed with Alves by pushing up and pressing against the Barcelona right back high up the field. Dirk Kuyt played quite conventionally on the left, and didn’t “over” defend against Maicon and Alves, and was actually quite important in attack for his hard work, awareness and movement.
But it was clear from the start that it was going to be a very physical encounter. There were plenty of challenges flying in. Mark van Bommel was lucky to stay on the field for a series of cynical fouls – not to mention elbowing Fabiano in the head. I won’t say the Netherlands went out to intimidate or hurt Brazil – the Brazilians are physical enough to hold their own – but it’s a method that unsettled Brazil and their structure, as was evident in the second half.
The Robben threat
Looking back on the game, Arjen Robben didn’t cause much trouble from a goalscoring point of view, but his play obviously unsettled Brazil from the outset. They seemed to fear the flying winger, despite playing awfully predictable. He came inside all too often, like he has done many times throughout last season and this summer, where he was greeted by Felipe Melo, Juan and Michel Bastos. They tried to push him down the line, an invitation he rarely accepted.
Robben was a figure Brazil were most clearly alarmed by. Michel Bastos was under strict instructions to stay tight to him, while Melo and Juan were also under orders to close him down when he came inside. This worked for the majority of the game, but Brazil seemed so anxious to close him down and prevent him having time on the ball that he was fouled regularly – a factor that ultimately led to the indiscipline and disorder of Dunga’s men. Michel Bastos was eventually taken off, or else risking a red card – for Gilberto Melo. A switch that saved Brazil from going down a man, but not fixing the problem they faced out on Holland’s right.
The oddest battle on the field came in the middle, where both sides played similar systems that cancelled each other out. Brazil, with two holding players and Kaka pushed up behind Fabiano, were comfortable and effective in possession early on. An interesting point was how high Melo played in the first half, often getting to the edge of the box, even ahead of Kaka. Gilberto Silva meanwhile, had a quiet game and was ultimately ineffective and anonymous when the chips were down in the second half.
The Dutch were dogged and pressive in the middle, especially as the game dragged on. Mark van Bommel got forward as often as he could, but ultimately neither he nor Nigel De Jong could get a foothold in the game. Most of the game was played from Holland’s right hand side, through Robben and Sneijder. The Internazionale trequartista was highly influential in Holland’s victory. Starting deep, he attempted runs from midfield to take on the Brazilian centre-backs, while operating either side of the holding midfielders interlinking play with van Persie, Kuyt and Robben – depending on which side he roamed to.
Maicon was unusually quiet from right back, while Dani Alves was another anonymous figure in the Brazilian side for the majority of the game. As expected, the Dutch relied massively on the threat of Robben and the influence of Sneijder.
Mistakes led to indiscipline and disorder
Brazil’s implosion all stemmed back to the mistake from Julio Cesar and Felipe Melo which led to the Dutch equaliser. Bastos fouled Robben on the touchline, and the resulting free kick was quickly taken. Unorganized and confused at the back, Cesar came fifteen yards off his line to gather the cross in from Sneijder, but Melo got their first. The ball skinned his head, and flew into the empty net. A rare mistake from Brazil, although I hold back on pinning the blame on Melo – the situation should’ve been cleared up by Cesar.
Melo however, was not out of the water. The Dutch grew in confidence and became the side we all know about. Robben and Sneijder in particular held up play brilliantly and forged ahead to find a second goal, all the while Brazil were becoming uneasy and resorted to cynical challenges and a loss of concentration.
Holland’s revival was awarded with a second goal. Kuyt moved ahead of Fabiano at a corner, glancing a header into the box from the near post. Melo was caught sleeping and Sneijder was there to bury in the winning header.
2-1 down, and Brazil really lost their heads. Melo was sent off for stamping on the thigh of Sneijder, while many more fouls flew in as a result of indiscipline and impatience as the Dutch held onto the ball well in the final third, depriving Brazil of the one thing they thrive on – possession.
Altogether there were forty fouls in the game, twenty from either side – the majority of Brazil’s coming in the final half.
The physical, intimidating nature of Holland’s play is far from the Total Football that the nation is known for. But despite playing below par, they continue to grind out wins.
The Netherlands await either Ghana or Uruguay in the semi-final, a tie that they will be favourite to win. Brazil go home with their heads down, and without a coach after Dunga’s resigned from his position earlier. A quarter-final finish is not good enough for the people of Brazil, and they await answers from the squad on what went wrong.
Holland have a fantastic opportunity now to reach the final. The Ghana and Uruguay game is impossible to call, but either way many will expect the Dutch to overcome both these sides in the next round and reach the final for the first time since the great sides of 1974 and 1978.