Some random observations after the Semifinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup:
Uruguay 2-3 Netherlands: The best defense in the tournament so far in Uruguay were not sending numbers forward early on, trying to keep tactical discipline, especially in the back, practically leaving Diego Forlan and Cavani up front by themselves. The Dutch let it be known that they were mentally and physically tough. Lots of possession on the flanks from both sides. Holland were more likely to put offensive pressure on the final third, doing a much better job of opening up space with their play on the flanks, thereby getting the ball into the Uruguayan penalty area. Sustained possession (by almost 2-1 in the first 25 minutes), switching play and patient ball movement left Uruguay asleep in the 18th minute as a long strike from 35 yards out on the left by fullback Giovanni van Bronckhorst surprised Uruguayan keeper Muslera and found the extreme upper right corner of the net to give the Dutch an early lead (when you give up that much possession bad things usually happen). Surprisingly physical game (kicking a player in the face, elbowing a player in the box) from both sides. The Netherlands is a surprisingly fast team, so the slow Uruguayan attacking buildup was not going to surprise the Dutch. Great individual ball skills from Forlan opened up space in the center in the final third for him to take a 25 yard shot that keeper Martin Stekelenburg got his hand onto but couldn’t deflect enough to prevent the ball from finding the back of the net. A little more offensive creativity by the Netherlands in the second half when Rafael van der Vaart came on. In the second half, even though Uruguay was playing with a little more confidence with a few well-timed counterattacks, Holland on several occasions had them pinned down in their own half because Uruguay was again conceding much of the possession. On the few occasions the Dutch broke down the Uruguayan backline they just simply missed massive scoring opportunities. In the 70th minute, however, Wesley Sneijder made a quality shot that ricocheted off of two Uruguayan defenders and made it just past both teammate Robin van Persie (who did not touch the ball in an offside position) and Muslera for a Dutch lead. Three minutes later the Dutch iced the game when, in a desperate attempt to get a goal back, Uruguay pushed forward, opening up space in the back for Dirk Kuyt to find Arjen Robben in the center of the penalty area for a scoring header (I have to say here that van Bronckhorst and Kuyt played a brilliant linkup game on the left flank all tournament long; today was no different). Maxi Pereira made it temporarily interesting in extra time with an indirect free kick strike that found the Dutch asleep, but in the end Uruguay simply ran out of time. MADD PROPS to Uruguay for finding a world-class form they hadn’t had in 60 years and playing a wonderful tournament. In an era when the Oranje don’t have the quality of legends like Kruyf, Neeskens, Rykaard, Gullit, van Basten, Bergkamp or van der Saar, the Netherlands will be playing in their first World Cup final in 32 years, with the chance to accomplish what none of those legends ever could.
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!
Some random observations after the third group fixtures:
Cameroon 1-2 Netherlands: With neither team having anything to play for, pride was the only issue. The early game is largely played in the middle third as each team cautiously poked and prodded for openings. As the half progressed, the Dutch offense started switching field effectively and spreading Cameroon’s defense, resulting in an opportunity for striker Dirk Kuyt in the box, but he hit it wide. Robin Van Persie and Rafael Van der Vaart then performed a nifty give and go at the top of the box with Van der Vaart one-touching a through ball back to Van Persie bursting through the defense and then shooting through the goalie’s legs for the lead. The back end of the first half saw the Indomitable Lions picking up their pace and getting a few good openings, but were not able to convert. Midway in the second, Van der Vaart made a critical mistake throwing his arm up to block a free kick. Samuel Eto’o buried the resulting penalty shot. A short time later, the Dutch brought on superstar forward Arjen Robben for his first appearance after a hamstring injury just before the Cup. Robben looked a bit rusty, but stilled flashed some magic, beating a defender just outside the box and then bending a shot that hit the far post, but rebounded to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the winning goal. The Orange won all three of their group games, but without their usual offensive flair. If Robben is healthy, it will be interesting to see if their juggernaut offense returns to form.
Denmark 1-3 Japan: The only drama left in Group E is which one of these two will advance. Both teams pushed up-tempo from the start and created great opportunities that just missed. Japan drew first blood when Keisuke Honda looped a 35-yard free kick from the right flank into the far corner of the net. It was the best free kick goal of the tournament so far, looking first like it might hook to the near post before swerving to the far post. The Danish goalie never had a chance. The Blue Samurai repeated the feat a short while later when Yasuhito Endo curled a 25-yard free kick around the wall and just inside the right post. The Japanese duped the Danes on the play by having Honda set up as if he was going to take the kick. Early in the second half, Danish goalie Thomas Sorensen nearly misplayed a long chip shot into the goal and was fortunate the ball found the post. A defensive miscue gave an excellent opportunity for veteran Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson at the 6-yard line, but he completely flubbed the shot attempt. The miscue aside, the Japanese defense was choking the box and the Danes could not penetrate. However, an elbow in the back and nice bit of acting got the Danes a penalty kick. Tomasson’s penalty shot was weak and blocked, but rebounded just far enough out of reach of the goalie that Tomasson was able to play it into the net. The Blue Samurai got the goal right back when Honda made a terrific back foot, reverse field move to beat a defender in the box and then laid the ball off to Shinji Okazaki all alone in front of the goal. Japan showed far more inventiveness, particularly on free kicks, and definitely earned their spot in the next round.