I’d great expectations from Van Persie. I thought he could be a big player at this World Cup. So far, except for the dead rubber against Cameroon, he has been rather disappointing. The Dutchman had a very poor outing against Slovakia, although in fairness, one could say that the whole Dutch team looked out of sorts. It was as if they were already thinking about Brazil and took the field only to get a formality out of the way.
They got an early goal via a Robben special and fell asleep after that. Van Persie had a few half chances but he didn’t make the most of any. Most of the Oranje possession was in defensive areas as can be seen from their passing stats. Even the Keeper Stekelenburg completed more passes than Sneijder, Kuyt, Robben or Van Persie!
Slovakia just didn’t have enough to cause an upset. Their striker Vittek had a couple of good moments but couldn’t beat the keeper until the last minute penalty. More than anything, the Italians must be wondering how they managed to lose to this Slovakian side.
The Dutch haven’t been on top form and will really struggle against Brazil if they continue in this manner. The Selecao were dismissive of the Chilean challenge. While not quite their entertaining best, Dunga’s team have managed to score a number of goals while playing some pragmatic football. They look like one of the most balanced teams in the competition and are clear favourites to reach the Final from their half of the draw. If they get past Holland they will face either Uruguay or Ghana in the Semis.
There is something about Brazil. Even when they are not playing well or aren’t dominating possession it always looks like they own the pitch. Even their defending has some class to it and the transition from defence to attack has been breathtaking at times.
I’m really hoping the Dutch get their act together; their quarter-final could turn into one of the most memorable games of all time. At times like these though, I try to keep my expectations in check. With the likes of Robben and Robinho on the pitch, it could also turn into a boring encounter if both teams are afraid of coming out. We’ve already seen that in the Brazil-Portugal game.
Talking about entertaining matches, I think the best one of the tournament so far was yesterday’s game between Argentina and Mexico. The Mexicans started brightly and were putting up a stiff challenge against their much fancied opponents. The key was their high pressing and quick ball movement.
Unfortunately for the El-Tri, they couldn’t find the finishing touch on one end and the linesman screwed them on the other. I still can’t believe how the Assistant Ref missed that off-side. If it had been a matter of inches it would have been acceptable, that kind of bad luck is part of the game. Once it’s a two yard decision the thoughts move from luck to incompetence to cheating and bribes.
To compound the Assistant’s error, those controlling the large screen showed the replays. It led to a great deal of argument and chaos on the pitch. The Mexicans lost their concentration and Osario made a fatal mistake as he lost the ball to Higuain right in front of his penalty area. It was always going to be tough to come back from a two goal deficit.
Tevez scored the third with a wonder strike and the new United recruit, Chicarito, got a consolation for the Mexicans. It was a wonderful turn and strike by the youngster and I’m looking forward to seeing him in the Premiership.
I was impressed by the way Argentina held back and defended their lead. They will need these skills and the discipline against the bigger teams as they have a tough road to the final.
I’m also enjoying the spirit of the Argentineans. They look like they are really enjoying their game and cherish being on the field, playing some attractive football. Their spirit reminds me of the Arsenal team at the start of the 07-08 Season. Let’s hope they end the tournament better than the way we ended that Season.
Maradona might have his weaknesses but he is certainly getting the best out of a talented bunch of players. Thankfully, he has also managed their egos quite well so far. The same cannot be said for some of his counterparts who’ve failed miserably.
In tomorrow’s games, Paraguay take on Japan and there is a classic in the offing as Spain clash with Portugal.
I think Japan will defend better than Paraguay and can nick it on set-pieces. There won’t be much to see or talk about in that game.
Spain’s battle with Portugal will be exciting from a tactical point of view. We can be quite sure that Carlos Queiroz will send his team out to defend and play on the counter. It’s also a given that Del Bosque will persist with the attractive style that makes Spain such a joy to watch.
Will Spain have enough to break down a resolute Portuguese defence or will Ronaldo score one on the counter? I think the key to unlock Portugal is with Fabregas. He might not start but I’m convinced he will have to play a crucial part late on if Spain are to progress. Can’t wait for that one.