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Brazil and Holland should be a cracker
Brazil has looked unstoppable for the better part of the 2010 World Cup, but the five-time champion faces its toughest test to date against a dangerous Netherlands squad with both the star power and the tactical acumen to slow down the South American powerhouse.
Brazil comes in at less than full-strength, with starting midfielder Elano out injured and starting midfielder Felipe Melo doubtful, but the South Americans will still be favored on the strength of an attack that just dismantled Chile and has notched eight goals this tournament.
The Dutch will look to penetrate a Brazilian defense that has allowed just two goals in four World Cup matches. They will do so on the strength of two of the most in-form attacking players in the game -- Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.
Sneijder’s ability to break down defenses with his pin-point passing and attacking forays will make him a key for Brazilian veteran Gilberto Silva to stop. Brazil’s system, which employs two defensive midfielders in front of the defense, has made life difficult for opposing playmakers, but with regular starter Felipe Melo still doubtful for Friday’s match due to an ankle injury, the Seleçao could find it difficult to stop Sneijder.
Ramires, Brazilian coach Dunga’s main option to replace Melo, is suspended for the Netherlands match, meaning Dunga may need to turn to veteran Josue to play alongside Silva. Josue is no slouch, having been a key figure in Brazil’s Copa America-winning side in 2007.
Stopping Robben could prove to be even more important, and more difficult. The dangerous right winger will face off against Michel Bastos, the Brazilian left back who has enjoyed an impressive tournament so far. Robben is no stranger to Bastos, having faced him in the UEFA Champions League semifinals (which Robben’s Bayern Munich won, 4-0, on aggregate).
Brazil’s two defensive midfielders are often tasked with helping defend the wings when the fullbacks surge forward, but with Sneider causing problems centrally, Silva and Josue will have to pick their poison between slowing down Sneijder and keeping tabs on Robben. Ultimately, Brazil will need Robinho to track back and help Bastos contend with Robben’s speed and dangerous runs.
The Dutch may find it tough to get striker Robin van Persie involved, what with the Brazilian tandem Lucio and Juan playing some of the best defensive soccer in the tournament.
Brazil will look to ask serious questions of a Dutch defense that hasn’t really been tested this tournament. Kaka is the key to the attack and the Dutch tandem of Nigel DeJong and Mark van Bommel will attempt to shackle the Real Madrid star, who has enjoyed a strong run of form during the World Cup. DeJong will try to make things difficult for Kaka by imposing his physical play on Brazil’s playmaker.
That task could be made easier by the absence of Elano. Dani Alves has done an admirable job of filling in for Elano, but he doesn’t bring the same attacking punch Elano does and there could be some concern for Brazil that starting Alves and Josue could put too much attacking responsibility on the trio of Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano.
Fabiano could be the difference maker as he takes on an organized and strong Dutch central defense that has looked vulnerable against quicker strikers. Johnny Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen have been reliable, but looked shaky at times against Slovakia in the Round of 16.
Another attacking option Brazil may lean more on is the marauding runs of right back Maicon, who will likely face Dirk Kuyt on the left wing. Kuyt isn’t the most dangerous threat going forward, which could allow Maicon more opportunities to race into the attack. This could lead Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk to start speedy winger Eljero Elia, who has been a real threat in a reserve role.
If it seems like there are too many match-ups to keep track of, it is because there are so many enticing battles that will decide the winner in this battle of world powers. The match will be won, as it often is, in the middle of the field. Whichever team can do a better job of containing the opposing team’s playmaker, while also freeing up their own playmaker, will earn a place in the semifinals.
Brazil will be favored to do so, but the Dutch have the weapons to pull the upset and, at the very least, make this quarterfinal one of the most exciting matches of this World Cup.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com.