South Africa Match Observations: Quarterfinals, Part I

Some random observations after the Quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup:

Netherlands 2-1 Brazil: Both teams looked to put together sustained passing buildup through the center early, while Brazil further looked to established their physicality. You be sure that with both these teams you are going to get great ball skills. Unlike Slovakia, Brazil did a much better job of taking advantage of the soft center of the Dutch midfield and backline as Felipe Melo sent a long through ball directly to the front to Robinho who one-timed it passed an approaching Martin Stekelenburg to get Brazil quickly on the board within ten minutes. As a result the tempo on both sides went up as both teams opened up and attacked vigorously. The Netherlands began to find space and make diagonal runs in the Brazilian half. Brazil exhibited a mental toughness most of us didn’t think they possessed. Surprising transitional speed by Brazil, who were able to transition back in numbers on defense even on Dutch counterattacks. Better shots on target by Brazil. The Dutch were making headway into the attacking third, creating free kick opportunities and taking cheeky set pieces. After the half the Dutch did a better job of curbing the Brazilian attack by challenging their patient buildup in midfield. Brilliant equalizer by the Netherlands as Wesley Sneijder gets on the end of a back pass from Arjen Robben on the right flank and sends a nice looping long ball into the goal mouth that keeper Julio Cesar couldn’t get on the end of because he was being interfered with my Felipe Melo. To their credit Brazil did not panic, continuing their patient sustained passing. Clearly Brazil was rattled, though, as the Dutch played with a lot more confidence and got into the Brazilian penalty area with regularity. A Dutch corner resulted in a score on a Sneijder header in the box. After that Brazil lost their discipline and composure. Felipe Melo’s cheap foul in the 73rd minute resulted in a red card, leaving Brazil with only 10 men and dooming any hopes they had of evening the score. For the first time ever Brazil lose when leading a World Cup game and go out in a most uncharacteristically ignonimous way. The Dutch pick the right time to finally get by Brazil in the World Cup. It’s too bad either one of them either side had to go home at this stage. In the end, the Netherlands deserved this.

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana a.e.t. (4-2 p.k.): Two entirely different approaches to football on display in this matchup: Uruguay’s tactical discipline and direct counterattack and Ghana’s athleticism, speed, explosion and individual achievement. Good anticipation by Luis Suarez, who managed to beat the Ghana offside trap on several occasions and get on the end of service to take quality shots on goal. Early on Ghana’s rearguard was less organized than in previous games, and keeper Kingson seemed to be suspect in net. Fantastic creative linkup play by Diego Forlan, going back to the half touch line, bringing the ball forward and finding open players in space (specifically Suarez) in the final third. A couple of quick strike opportunities primarily by Kevin Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan almost got Ghana on the board, and even though they were content to let Uruguay maintain the majority of possession, Boateng and Gyan got more confident attacking the final third, stretching Uruguay’s defense. Ghana was able to use their speed to stretch Uruguay’s midfield and defense so much that Sulley Muntari shot on goal from about 40 yards and scored in first half stoppage time. Confident if not refined direct attacking from Ghana in the second half as both sides went back and forth, neither spending a lot of time in the middle third. Forlan finally gets Uruguay level with a laser shot on a direct free kick that swerves in from 25 yards that Kingson totally misjudged. Both teams attacked with abandon then; Uruguay more on the counter, Ghana more or less taking advantage of open space and hoping for a defensive mistake. It just became a function of which defense would bend but not break. Much better attacking and quality shots on goal in extra time for Ghana, who got into the box with regularity and made Uruguay work to keep the ball out of their own goal. A handball in the Uruguayan net led to a gift penalty kick in the 122nd minute of extra time for Ghana and the win with no time left, but the golden opportunity was lost when Gyan missed a rocket of a shot off the crossbar. It’s too bad this game had to go to penalty kicks; both teams deserved better than that. After that, you just knew because of karma that Uruguay was going to make it through. A cruel exit for Ghana, who have only themselves to blame for failing to go through to a place no team from Africa has ever been in the World Cup (and still hasn’t).

A decidedly good day of football!

— daveydoug