In day three of the round of sixteen, Brazil collide with Chile in what will surely be one of the games of the tournament, and the Netherlands clash with the side who toppled the reigning champions, Slovakia.
Netherlands -v- Slovakia
Durban, 16:00 local time
Netherlands – comfortable in qualifications but have yet to get into gear - The Oranje cruised nicely through the group stage on maximum points, but you couldn’t help but feel that this Dutch side was yet to really get going. A nice second half double against Denmark kicked things off after they stuggled to break down the Danes. Unusually defensive, and often congested and void of ideas in attack. Then they beat Japan by a sole goal, before a 2-1 victory over already eliminated Cameroon.
The Dutch where very underwhelming in the group stage, and a second round tie with Slovakia doesn’t get the pulses racing. The Dutch play a very central, commanding game but find it difficult to break sides down. They play two holding midfielers, Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel, with four majorly central attackers – Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie and Rafael van der Vaart. Not a bad attacking quadruple. However things should change against Slovakia – enter Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich man has been out with injury, but is undoubtedly the key to open stubborn defences and add some much needed widht to the congested midfield. Possibly replacing van der Vaart, Robben will offer an all action display from either flank, swapping with Kuyt regularly. The wait to see Robben will have been well worth it.
Slovakia – will find it difficult to emulate Italy heroics – Slovakia will be remembered as the side who knocked reigning champions Italy out, not for heroically managing a top eight finish because I don’t think they will have enough left in the tank to beat the Netherlands. They began with an uninspiring 1-1 draw against New Zealand, which followed by a deserving 2-0 loss to Paraguay. However a 3-2 win against Italy in the final game meant they rolled on, and Italy rolled out.
Slovakia played a great game against a poor Italian side. Their tactics worked perfectly, and at the end of it all deserved the win. The got Robert Vittek into the game as much as possible, the big lone forward with a brilliant ability to hold the ball. Difference with other players who fill this role is Vittek can score goals, and notched two to add to his goal against New Zealand. He received the ball, held it up magnificently and got the likes of Marek Hamsik and Miroslav Stoch who were making midfield runs into the game effectively. A superb one-striker performance, and he’ll be a handful for the Dutch defence. Defensively however, Slovakia aren’t very solid or cohesive, and the full back could easily get picked a part from the running of Robben and Kuyt and the late runs of Sneijder. van Persie will offer a much better role up front than the Italians did, and will be a different kettle of fish for Martin Skrtel and co.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia
Brazil -v- Chile
Johannesburg (Ellis Park), 20:30 local time
Brazil – gritty, tenacious with a little touch of Samba – They qualified comfortably, one seven points, with three mostly gritty and somewhat un-Brazilian perforances. Sure, there were glimpses of Samba here and there, perhaps just the right mix. Win first, play later. Beginning with a 2-1 victory in a surprisingly tight affair with North Korea, before beating the Ivory Coast 3-1 after their on-field implosion, and topped it off in a goalless draw with Portugal – a first for Brazil in the competition.
Tactically, they are very narrow and rely on their widht from right back Maicon which he provides fantastically (remember that goal?). With Robinho on the left drifting in, Elano doing the same centrally from the right and Kaka and Luis Fabiano up front, Brazil are predominately central and offer little out wide if it’s not their full backs. This could cause a problem to them, depending on how Chile will set out. As Brazil play with one striker, they should go with two centre halves and four at the back, and the attacking sense of their full backs not to mention that of their wide men will peg Maicon and Michel Bastos back a lot .
Chile – well hyped up, have we yet to see them unleash their talent? – Chile have been hugely talked about ahead of the tournament, with their unorthodox formation and incredibly attacking players. Despite qualifying on six points, they were reliant on Switzerland dropping points against Honduras in the final game which they did.
Chile boast magnificent amount of attacking-savvy players, but it’s a side that could do with a lethal finisher up front. Alexis Sanchez has been one of the stars of the tournament, and he’ll be more than talented enough to acquit himself amongst the best of the Brazilians. Like I mentioned above, if Chile can hold onto as much possession as possible and peg back the Brazilian full-backs, they stand a huge chance of winning. By taking out Brazil’s only hope of any widht, it could turn into the battle of the midfields where Chile welcome back Mati Fernandez and Carlos Carmona. It’ll be an interesting showdown, hold on tight!
Prediction: Brazil 2-2 Chile at FT